Former Bulldog All-American has Finnish team in first place
by Chuck Gordon

 

Jade Montgomery is one of the most decorated athletes in Wingate history. The three-time South Atlantic Conference athlete of the year is now making waves in Finland, leading her pro team to the top of the standings.

Jade Montgomery’s second go-round in professional soccer has been decidedly better than her first.

In the summer of 2015, Montgomery joined Finnish team Kokkola Futis 10 for the second half of their season. A recent Wingate University graduate, she had high hopes of making her mark professionally in Europe. But soon after landing in Finland, the perennial All-American found a dysfunctional situation that didn’t live up to her exacting standards.

“There were problems with the coaches and the players,” she says. “No one showed up for practice. It wasn’t great. I was counting down the days to come home.”

Fast-forward three years, and she’s much happier – and extremely productive. Montgomery has shaken off the rust of a two-year hiatus and leads her team, IK Myran, in goals (nine) and assists (seven). And Myran currently sits in first place in Finland’s second division, though it’s a tightly bunched group, with four other teams within four points of Myran.

Montgomery had spent the previous two years earning a master of sport management degree from Wingate while serving as a graduate assistant coach for the women’s soccer team. She also coached a local youth team.

But after receiving her master’s degree in December, Montgomery, who turned 25 in March, started feeling the itch to get back on the pitch. She reached out to some people she’d met during her first tour of duty in Finland, and they pointed her toward IK Myran, in the tiny village of Nedervetil, five and a half hours north of Helsinki. By the end of March, she was on a plane to Finland.

“Helping out with the (Wingate women’s) team made me realize I wasn’t done playing,” Montgomery says. “This was really the only place I knew I could come back to, and really it just took a couple of games to get back into game shape.”

Decorated Bulldog

The two-year hiatus aside, it’s little surprise that Montgomery has been so dominant. At Wingate, she tore through the South Atlantic Conference. She was not only the league player of the year three consecutive years but in 2015 also became the first three-time SAC athlete of the year.

Jade Montgomery during her Wingate days

In her college career, Montgomery led the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament all four years she played (the 2011 through 2014 seasons), was named to five All-America teams, and helped Wingate to 59 total wins. She led the nation in goals scored (21) as a sophomore, including seven game-winners.

“Jade’s just always been the toughest competitor on the field and the most humble off it,” says Bulldogs assistant coach Jack Vundum, who coached Montgomery as a junior and senior and coached alongside her the past two years. “She was always direct and would score lots of goals – and really important ones at that in the biggest of games.”

Montgomery is now back doing what she does best, but a half a world away. Nedervetil is usually chilly to downright freezing most of the year; it lies at roughly the same latitude as Reykjavik, Iceland. But despite being a five-hour drive from the Arctic Circle, it’s been caught up in the European heat wave this summer. “No one really has air conditioning over here,” Montgomery says, “so when it’s 85 the last three weeks, you’re just lying in bed sweating.”

The cultural differences are not terribly acute. Nedervetil is, curiously, a Swedish-speaking town, and, aside from Montgomery and the team’s other American, Ball State University grad Casey Swackhamer, half of the IK Myran team speaks Swedish, while the other half speaks Finnish. But just about everyone knows English, so that’s what’s spoken most often at practice.

Montgomery isn’t earning Cristiano Ronaldo wages, but she gets free housing, so she saves a good bit of what she earns. She spends some on travel – during a three-week league break she plans to travel throughout Finland and visit the UK – but for the most part she trains, plays matches and binge-watches Netflix (she’s currently catching up on armageddon drama “The 100”).

To earn extra cash on the side, Montgomery runs training sessions for youth players. “The kids know very little English, so it’s a struggle trying to do drills and games with them, because they have no idea what I’m saying,” Montgomery says. “I literally have to show them everything, and if they still don’t get it, a mom will have to come over and translate for me.”

That side hustle gives Montgomery a boost during home games, when she is routinely serenaded by shouts of “Jade! Jade!” from the gaggle of young fans she coaches each week.

Much better experience

Before she signed with IK Myran, Montgomery was warned about the size of Nedervetil. “They told me, ‘I just want to let you know before you get here, this is a very, very small town,’” she says. “I was thinking, That’s OK. I’m from a small town. But it’s 10 times smaller than Monroe. I wouldn’t even call it a town. It’s a village. But it’s not bad. Everyone’s super-friendly.”

And most of the townsfolk come out for games, giving the first-place team one of the best fan bases in the league.

Montgomery likens the competition to a very high NCAA Division II level – basically, the level at which she competed for Wingate. Many of the players are in their late teens or early 20s; some are in college and a few are even still in high school. Montgomery is among the older players.

In that setting, Montgomery shines. She has a natural competitiveness about her and an ability to see the field and find the back of the net. “I feel like I have a knack for scoring goals,” she says. “I can read the field well. I’m always going to give my best. I work hard. Even when my body tells me not to, I’m still trying to at least find open space. I definitely don’t like to lose.”

With Montgomery on the pitch, Myran has won 10 of its 14 matches so far. The season for the 12-team league runs until October, when the former Bulldog will return to the United States, hopefully with a league title in her pocket.

“I knew I wasn’t done playing, and if I didn’t try then, I think I would regret it down the road. I’m definitely happy I gave it another shot,” she says. “Last time, I was miserable. I wouldn’t laugh or smile at practice. Now, obviously I’m still counting down the days, but I’ll be sad leaving this time.”

July 30, 2018