WILMINGTON, North Carolina (UNCWSports.com) – It’s not often you hear of college soccer players leaving their teams after one season to pursue a professional contract, but for UNCW freshman defender Hjalmar Ekdal, the opportunity to play professionally in his home country of Sweden was one he could not pass up.
The 2017 Colonial Athletic Association Rookie-of-the-Year and First-Team All-CAA selection recently signed a professional contract to play for IK Frej, a SuperEttan team in his native Sweden.
For Ekdal, the decision to depart the Port City was based on his desire to play soccer at the highest level.
“I started to think about it at the beginning of the semester,” the Stockholm, Sweden, native said. “I thought that if soccer is what I want to do with my life, I should give it an honest chance because I want to play at a high level, so I started to look at going home to Sweden to play at the next level.”
Being away from home during the past season has been tough for Ekdal, so being able to play in front of friends and family is something he looks forward to during the next chapter.
“I was not homesick during my time here at UNCW, but you miss friends and family. It’s going to be nice because I can live at home and see my family every day.”
While his time with the Seahawks was brief, the 6-2 Ekdal made an impact while helping the Seahawks reach the NCAA Tournament for the second time in the last four years. One of five players to start all 20 games, he netted the game-winning goal in the Seahawks’ 1-0 victory over No. 3 North Carolina on Sept. 1.
Ekdal earned a plethora of awards for his outstanding play. In addition to his All-CAA accolades, he received a spot on the NCCSIA All-State First Team and was recognized on the All-Freshman Team by College Soccer News and Top Drawer Soccer. Ekdal was also named as an All-Midwest Region Second-Team pick by United Soccer Coaches.
UNCW Coach Aidan Heaney is supportive of Ekdal’s decision and understands how important it is for him to pursue his dream.
“We wish Hjalmar well as he embarks on his professional career and will follow his progress with keen interest,” the Seahawks’ bench boss said. “This opportunity is one he felt that he should pursue strongly and I support his dream to be a professional soccer player back home in Sweden.
“Many of our players have dreams to make a living playing soccer and I believe we will continue to see more achieve their goals in the future. We have enjoyed Hjalmar being a part of the Seahawk family and he will always remain a Seahawk.”
Ekdal hopes to take the lessons he learned during his time on the UNCW Soccer Stadium pitch and apply them during the next phase of his career.
“College soccer is definitely different compared to European soccer. It is more physical and I think that will help me. I needed to improve on that aspect of my game and I feel like I was able to do that here.”
Some of the memories Ekdal will take away with him include the road trips with his teammates and the friendships he formed. He will also take away a lot of knowledge he gained during his time in Wilmington.
“I have learned a lot about myself during the last year and it has been a good experience for me. It’s been huge for me to be a part of this program. Everyone within this program is amazing and I couldn’t have had it much better here.”