RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Ashley Riefner was a state player of the year for Atlee during her high school days and wrapped up her Richmond career ninth on the program’s all-time scoring list. There were times she thought that her playing days would end there.
“It has always been a dream for me to keep playing, but I didn’t think that it was going to happen for me,” Riefner said on Wednesday.
It meant a trip overseas, but it did.
Riefner has been playing professionally in Finland for the last four years and has found her niche. She’s been a part of league championship teams in three of her four seasons in the country and was named her league’s top midfielder in 2019. That accomplishment happened despite her having to overcome an injury.
“It’s hard in the moment because you’ve been working hard for the past couple months,” she said. “But I feel like every time I’ve had an injury, I’ve always felt kind of a little bit more refreshed because I’m reminded of how much I really love soccer and how much I miss it.”
The former Raider and Spider is a midfielder for Aland United, a squad in Finland’s Kansallinen Liiga. There was a small adjustment period when she arrived in the nation in May of 2016 but doing what she loves helped with that.
“It’s not too hard to feel settled in here just because I’m playing soccer and I’m here doing stuff that I want to do, and I’m surrounded by good people.”
Riefner’s season came to halt with the rest of the world during the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her league resumed play last month. Finland is a country with a population of about 5.5 million people. Wednesday saw just three new cases of coronavirus, and the nation has a total of 7,265 total cases.
“A max of 500 people can come to our games and we’re not allowed to do handshakes or anything with the other team,” Riefner noted. “It’s still a thing here, but it’s not as serious as what I’ve heard in the U.S.”
As for her future, Riefner is always open to new opportunities, but she’s in no rush to leave Finland, where she’s made a name for herself on the pitch.
“I’m not really sure. I’m happy where I am, and if there’s an opportunity, then sure, I could take it, but just taking it day by day, and let’s see what happens.”
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