By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– Steve Swanson thought his chance had passed. In February 2017, before Swanson had time to interest her in the University of Virginia and its women’s soccer program, forward Diana Ordonez committed to Texas A&M. She was a sophomore at Prosper High School in Texas.
Such early commitments are not uncommon in the women’s game. “We got in late,” recalled Swanson, UVA’s longtime head coach, “and, obviously, initially it was too late with where she was in the process.”
Ordonez decided later, however, that she’d rushed her decision. In September 2017 she re-opened her recruitment and started looking at schools located well outside the Longhorn State, including Virginia.
“I was disappointed that we saw her late [the first time],” Swanson said, “but I was equally as excited when she decommitted and reached out to us again that she was opening it up. We were going to do everything we could to not have that happen again.”
The more Ordonez researched Virginia and Swanson’s program, the more she liked.
“Steve really values possession, and I’ve always played that way,” Ordonez said. “I was never kind of a forward who’d run and have people kick the ball over to me. That’s how it is in Texas, and my club was one of the only ones that didn’t play that way. So I just loved that uniqueness about our club” –– FC Dallas –– “and I wanted to continue to play that way in college.”
Ordonez committed to UVA in January 2018 and enrolled there a year later. To call her a phenom might be an understatement. The Wahoos are unbeaten and ranked No. 1 nationally, in large part because of Ordonez’s contributions.
In only 11 games –– Ordonez missed three with a foot injury –– she’s scored an ACC-high 12 goals. She and former UVA star Makenzy Doniak are the only players in program history to have scored at least one goal in each of their first five games.
“I worked really hard [to prepare for the season],” Ordonez said, “and it’s just really nice to see that pay off. And I think being given the opportunity to play is something that you have to take advantage of, and so I’m glad I was able to.”
UVA legends Angela Hucles and Lindsay Gusick share the program record for goals by a freshman. Each scored 17 in her first season at Virginia: Hucles in 1996 and Gusick in 2001.
What made Ordonez’s early production especially impressive, Swanson said, was that “she was scoring goals against every team we played. She was putting goals in against Georgetown and the better teams that we were playing in the non-conference schedule. She’s been remarkably consistent throughout.”
Her dazzling array of skills is not the only reason Ordonez, who turned 18 last month, stands out on the field. At 5-11, she’s the tallest player on the UVA roster and towers over many of the defenders given the unenviable task of trying to slow her down.
“I think D is a specimen,” teammate Meghan McCool said, “because of her size and strength. That’s not really normal in the women’s game, and she can use her body so well.”
Ordonez said: “It’s definitely an advantage, especially at my position. Players my height are usually not soccer players, and not at my position.”
Swanson said Ordonez’s size allows her to “get to things that a lot of other players maybe couldn’t get to. She can get to the balls that are in the air, because she’s tall. She’s not scared to go to ground to put the ball in as well. She’s agile, too, and she’s an extremely strong athlete as well to go along with that. And she’s not afraid.
“I think she’s shown with her athleticism, with the physical tools that she has, and with her bravery and her willingness to put her body on the line, that she [is a special player]. That’s just one facet of scoring. She obviously has the skill set to score, the right foot or left foot or head, and she also has the thought processes of where to go with her shots. Where can I find openings? Where is the goalkeeper’s position in relation to the goal? Where do I need to put the ball? And obviously you have fractions of a second to process this information, but she’s able to do that.”
Swanson singled out the right-footed Ordonez’s left-footed goal against Virginia Tech on Sept. 26 in her return to the lineup after missing three games with a foot injury.
“That was a half-chance that she made into a full chance,” Swanson said. “There wasn’t too much space there in the time that she had to figure out where to go with it, and she puts it in the exact spot she needed to, to score the goal against a pretty good goalkeeper.”
Ordonez, whose father is from Ecuador and whose mother, a California native, is of Mexican ancestry, was born in Riverside, California, about 55 miles east of Los Angeles. She moved with her family to Texas when she was 5 years old.
The Ordonezes live in Prosper, a suburb of Dallas where Diana, the youngest of five children, showed an early aptitude for soccer.
“My two older brothers played,” Ordonez recalled, “and I was always a bit of a tomboy, so I always wanted to play with them and hang out with them, and that’s what they were doing.”
While playing for FC Dallas, Ordonez became friends with Taryn Torres, who enrolled at UVA in 2017 and made the ACC’s All-Freshman team that fall.
“On the field, I could tell that she was really mature for her age,” Torres said this week. “Her soccer IQ was advanced. That struck me, and off the field as well, we were able to get along, I think because she had older siblings.”
After Ordonez decommitted from Texas A&M and UVA began recruiting her in earnest, “Taryn spoke really highly of her,” Swanson said. “We try to look at not only the player, but the person as well, and I think Taryn has fit in really well here as both a player and a person. Just to hear Taryn speak so positively about D, both on and off the field, was real helpful for us as a staff and us as a program, to get that validation from someone who knew her and had played with her and was in our program.”
Ordonez said she saw how Torres steadily improved during her first season at UVA, “and that’s what I wanted, too.”
Torres, a junior who has started every game in the midfield for the Hoos this season, said seeing Ordonez in Charlottesville is “really cool, especially because we were friends before she came here, so it’s like a little piece of home.”
Ordonez has represented the United States at the U17 level, and her potential in the sport seems almost unlimited. Even so, Swanson said, “I’ve just been really impressed with how grounded and even-keeled she is.
“I think one of the things that can really get in the way of development or get in the way of reaching goals as a team and as an individual is dealing with the distractions, and the distractions can come in a lot of different ways. They can come in [the form of] publicity and things like that, and I think that D has handled her success remarkably well. She’s very humble, and she’s very determined to be the best player she can be. Obviously, she plays a huge role on our team, but a lot of roles are very important. One is not more important than the other, and I think D understands that. I think D respects somebody like Taryn who maybe doesn’t get all the attention that D does, because she’s scoring goals, but whose job is just as important in terms in terms of linking our play and defending and just coordinating our attack and finding where the spaces are.”
The next opportunity to see Ordonez and her teammates on the pitch comes Sunday, when Virginia (11-0-3 overall, 3-0-3 ACC) hosts Notre Dame (9-4-1, 3-2-1) in a 2 p.m. game at Klöckner Stadium. Only four games remain in the regular season for the Cavaliers, who are looking forward to their first postseason with Ordonez.
“She’s a really hard worker,” Swanson said, “and she gives us so much other than scoring goals. Not that the goal-scoring piece hasn’t been critical for us, but there’s a lot of other things she does for us really well, and it’s unusual for a first-year to do those things well that she’s been doing.”