Q+A: Diana Ordóñez on her prolific NWSL rookie season, tattoos and more

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina Courage forward Diana Ordóñez has enjoyed a prolific rookie season in the NWSL. In August, she broke the previous NWSL record (7) for most goals scored in a rookie season. With four additional tallies since, the 21-year-old currently sits fourth in the Golden Boot standings behind Alex Morgan (15), Courage teammate Debinha (12), Sophia Smith (12).

Ahead of the end of the regular season, On Her Turf caught up with Ordóñez about her start in soccer, her transition to the NWSL, playing with the Mexican national team, and the meaning behind her sleeve of tattoos.

This Q&A has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity. 

On Her Turf: I always describe myself as a timeline person so I’d love to begin with your start in soccer. I read that you’re the youngest of five siblings so I am especially curious about how your family influenced your early years in the sport?

Diana Ordóñez: So yes, I’m the youngest of five. I have two older brothers who played soccer for as long as I can remember. My dad played soccer his whole life, too, up until the semi pro level. And growing up, I just always wanted to be around my brothers and do what they were doing.

When I was about five years old, we moved to Dallas, Texas… I was super young so it wasn’t like (I was playing soccer) very seriously. But my parents kind of quickly realized that the soccer scene in Dallas is pretty serious and so they wanted to get me to the right place and the right team. We found FC Dallas, which was a huge blessing to me.

(Initially) I was playing for one team with a 2001 age cutoff, but then the cutoff dates were different for different divisions. And so when they moved from one division to another division, I wasn’t allowed to play with that team anymore. I was really upset about it, but I was also still really young. That’s when I met Matt Grubb, who ended up being my coach at FC Dallas for the next nine years, up until I went to college. He’s someone that I had a really, really great relationship with — and still do. I owe him a lot of credit for the player that he made me into and the team that he was able to build.

And then I went on to play at Virginia for three years and then I got drafted last December and now I’m here with the Courage.

On Her Turf: Given that women’s professional soccer in the U.S. hasn’t always existed during your lifetime, I’m curious when you 1) realized that there were women playing pro soccer and 2) that became a goal for you personally?

Ordóñez: When I was younger, because the (women’s) leagues weren’t so prominent, I didn’t really know that it was an option. I was always watching men’s games and looking up to a lot of male players. But it was just something I always said to myself anyway, like, ‘Oh, when I grow up, I want to be a professional soccer player.’ I just didn’t know how it was gonna work.

When I got into high school and started getting recruited, it seemed more possible. (The NWSL) started becoming more prominent and the U.S. national team was so dominant. That was a team I looked up to and watched a lot. So it’s been a dream for a while, but it became more of a reality once I got to high school and college.

On Her Turf: You obviously had a really successful collegiate career at Virginia. Could walk me through your decision to graduate after just three years and declare for the NWSL draft?

Ordóñez: Yeah, my time at UVA was incredible. I definitely feel like God led me there. It was really hard at first to move halfway across the country because I’m a really big homebody… It was just a leap of faith.

I actually graduated high school a semester early as well. And so I went to UVA in the spring, which is something that I think really helped me develop and have the time to make my way onto the team, get acquainted with everybody, and find my footing without having to jump right into the season… So even though it was really hard to go there — let alone when I was 17 and a semester early — it was definitely worth it and is something that I would highly recommend to anybody who’s thinking about it.

But yeah, my time at UVA felt really, really short and went by really quickly, especially with the pandemic. But it was still an incredible time for me… All of the coaches that were there were really really good to me. They’re really focused on the development of their players.

Making that decision to go from the college level to pro — especially at a young age — definitely wasn’t easy. It was something that took a lot of conversation and a lot of prayer with my family. I’m really appreciative that Steve (Swanson), UVA’s head coach, was very, very honest with me. He told me, ‘You know, there are parts of your game that aren’t ready to play at the professional level, but there are parts of your game that are.’ I listened to him, I considered all the things that he had to say, and I’m very appreciative of his honesty with me.

Getting my degree was something that was also really important to me. If I hadn’t been able to graduate (in three years), I wouldn’t have left early. So just being able to get my degree, feel like I was in a good place soccer-wise, it all just kind of lined up and felt like the best decision.

On Her Turf: Given that the NWSL season was already in full swing, were you able to attend your college graduation ceremony this spring?

Ordóñez: Yes, luckily I was able to go to my graduation. That was something I was super, super grateful to (Courage head coach) Sean (Nahas) for; he understood that it was a really big deal for me and something that deserved to be celebrated and experienced. We actually had a game the day after so I literally drove to Virginia from Raleigh, graduated, and came back and played a game the next day.

On Her Turf: It seems like you made the leap from college soccer to the NWSL pretty seamlessly! Is pro soccer what you expected or have there been a lot of surprises along the way?

Ordóñez: It’s little bit of everything, like you said. Some things went as expected, some things were definitely a surprise.

The goal for me when I got drafted was that I wanted to play. I’m not the type of player that’s, like, ‘Oh, I want to make the roster, I want to travel.’ The goal for me will always be to play, no matter what level I’m at. Something that helped me a lot is that the veterans really took me in and helped me out, as they did with a lot of the other rookies. I’m very grateful for that because, you know, it’s so easy to just write people off, especially rookies.

Cary, North Carolina — North Carolina Courage forward Diana Ordóñez celebrates after scoring a goal against the Chicago Red Stars on August 20, 2022, at WakeMed Soccer Park. (Photo: Rob Kinnan, USA TODAY Sports)

I’m also super grateful to Sean (Nahas) for just giving me a chance. I know there’s a lot of places that don’t really take a chance on their rookies and I think he made it a very fair opportunity for me to show what I can do and prove that I belong on the field… The team was also brand new, so I felt very lucky that they chose me to be a part of the group. I know it’s a rebuilding year — or at least that’s what people thought it was going to be considering how many people they lost from last season to this one.

Coming into the season and winning the Challenge Cup — when everyone thought we were just going to be rebuilding and not be very competitive team — was a really cool first experience in the league and lifting a trophy that was really nice. I know that’s not always the reality, but yeah, my transition here has been really, really smooth.

On Her Turf: I know there are a lot of NWSL playoff scenarios at this point and, honestly, my head hurts whenever I try to think through the different outcomes. Heading into the end of the regular season, what is the Courage focused on?

Ordóñez: We got ourselves out of a very, very tough position, one that we put ourselves in at the beginning of the season (going 2-4-6 in the first 12 games and being in last place in mid-August). I think the response from the team this half of the season has been nothing short of extremely impressive. Everyone’s really bought in and wants to give ourselves the best chance to make the playoffs… At this point, we’re just worried about controlling what we can control.

On Her Turf: I covered the NWSL Players’ Association when they were negotiating for the first collective bargaining agreement (CBA) so it strikes me that, as a rookie, you never played in the league without a CBA. I’m curious what the CBA means to you? Or maybe you don’t have a great sense of that, given that you never experienced the NWSL without it?

Ordóñez: Yeah, I’m very lucky that I don’t know any different. I just give a huge round of applause and so much credit to the players and the people that make up the (Players Association). How much they just fought for what we deserve and what they have deserved for a long time. I mean, there are people that have been in this league 10 years, since when it first started, and the wages that they were making were not nearly enough to live a comfortable life. All at the expense of living out your dream, which is just so unfortunate.

So I feel very blessed to have come into the league at such a prominent time when it’s really just on the rise and players are speaking up for what they deserve. I didn’t really have to do much… I just kind of got drafted and there was a CBA. But that doesn’t mean what they’ve done has gone unnoticed. I’m just super grateful for the PA and the team representatives and the people who were truly not going to stop until they got what they wanted and deserved.

On Her Turf: I also wanted to get your thoughts on playing with the Mexican National team. I’m sure there was a lot of disappointment this summer (given the team’s performance at the Concacaf W Championship). Looking ahead, what are your goals on the international side of things?

Ordóñez: Yeah, like you said, it was very, very disappointing coming off the CONCACAF tournament this summer. Obviously the goal on any national team is to play in a World Cup, play in the Olympics, and you need to qualify to do those things. So yeah, there was a lot of disappointment.

But I also do believe that everything happens for a reason and I think a lot of change needed to take place. And I think without those results, that wouldn’t have happened… Mexico is kind of coming into a new age and we just needed something new to come in and change the dynamic of how we were functioning because clearly, with the results of that tournament, it wasn’t working.

I do believe there’s a lot of talented Mexican players. I don’t think it’s a lack of talent. I don’t think that’s our issue. I just think we just need to get the right people together. And this is a time for us to just rally and start from scratch and I think that’s kind of a blessing in disguise.

Next time around, we’ll be much more prepared and better suited to to really compete and hopefully go to a World Cup.

On Her Turf: Finally, I love the tattoos on your left arm. I was wondering if you could tell me a little about what they all represent?

Ordóñez: So starting at the top… The one on my shoulder is for my parents. It’s their birth years: 1967 and 77. I’ve always been really into tattoos, ever since I was little, and I always knew I wanted to get a tattoo for my parents. They’re really, really important to me.

Working your way down from there, I have a lot of tattoos that represent my faith. I’m a very religious person and very much trusting God and His plan. I believe that His strength is what helps me every day and it’s just what helped me get to this point to live out my dreams and everything. So I have a dove that’s representative of when Jesus was baptized. I have a Bible verse, I have a cross, and then above that I have ‘Run your race,’ which is something that I’ve been meditating on for a while. It’s from the Book of Hebrews and is (about) just staying in your lane. Focus on you and don’t get distracted by what other people have going on… Just knowing that your journey is not the same as anybody else’s.

And then I have a dahlia, which is the national flower of Mexico. That was something that I had wanted to get for a while, just to represent my heritage and where I come from. So yeah, that’s kind of a quick rundown… But I appreciate you asking about them, most people don’t really ask that.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

2023 March Madness: Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet Sixteen appearance

Members of the Utah Utes celebrate their win over the Princeton Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament.
Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The No. 2-seeded Utah (27-4) women’s basketball team held off a pesky 10th-seeded Princeton squad on Sunday, winning 63-56 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships for the first time since 2005-06 and just the third time in the program’s history.

“I’m proud of our team,” said eighth-year head coach Lynne Roberts after the second-round win at Utah’s Hunstman Center. “We set out to do this a year ago. We lost in this game at University of Texas and the goal was to be able to host (this year) so that we could have that home-court advantage and it made a difference.”

Utah’s fourth-year junior Alissa Pili backed up her recent second-team All-American honor with another 20-plus-point performance, scoring 28 on 8-for 13 shooting with 10 rebounds and going 11-for 13 on free throws. Sophomore forward Jenna Johnson added 15 points and six rebounds.

There’s been a lot of talk this weekend about how the Utes’ previous few seasons have ended – beginning with a rough 14-17 season that was cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic, followed by an abysmal 5-16 record in 2020-21. But the tide turned last year, as Utah rebounded with a 21-12 season that ended with a 78-56 loss to Texas in Austin in the second round of the NCAA tournament one year ago.

So, what changed?

“Last year, everyone was new to the NCAA tournament, so I think everyone was just experiencing it for the first time,” mused Johnson. “Losing in the second round last year, we’re definitely a lot hungrier this year, and then obviously hosting in Salt Lake, it’s fun just being in your own environment, to be around your own fans. I think it gives us an elevated level of confidence, both knowing what it’s like it play in this tournament and also getting to be at home.”

“Yeah, freshman year was kind of rough,” added third-year sophomore Kennady McQueen, who chipped in nine points Sunday. “We did experience losing a lot. … Coach Roberts, she said we are not going to have another season like that. We all stood behind her — the people that stayed — and brought in great people like starting last year with Jenna and Gi (Gianna Kneepkens) and people like that who have had a huge impact in helping us to where we are today. …

“When you get together a group of people that have the same goal in mind and will do make anything to make it happen, I think that’s where we have seen our success rate going up. This past offseason, we just kept getting better, and of course, the addition of the Alissa Pili really helped. When you bring a group of girls that have the same dream and same goal at the end of the year and doesn’t care about personal stats more than winning, I think we get the season that we have today, and it prepares us for deep run in March.”

In particular, McQueen believe it was Utah’s improvement in their defense that was crucial to the turnaround. “Everyone knows how good we are on offense, but if we can’t get stops, it doesn’t matter how good you are on offense,” she said. “So that’s just been a key the whole past off-season and all of this season — just getting better on defense.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Alissa Pili revives her love of basketball with record season at Utah

Roberts credits their defensive improvement with a “philosophical mindset change,” explaining, “We worked on [defense] a lot differently, a lot more intentionally. Strategically we made some changes of how we are going to defend, and I won’t bore you with that. But there was a lot, just different things because you have to play to your strengths. You can’t be a run-and-jump pressing team if you don’t have the depth and athletes to do it. You can’t be a zone team if you are not super big. You have to figure out what fits your personnel, and so that’s what we did.”

There’s also the undeniable impact of Pili, a transfer from USC who has found her stride as a Ute, where she recently was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

“She kind of is the straw that stirs the drink for us right now,” said Roberts of the 21-year-old Alaska native. “She’s a nightmare to defend because she can shoot the three, and she’s also really athletic and mobile, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing. I think you have to gameplan for her. But then with her three-point shooting, you know, you have to pick your poison.”

But Roberts also gave plenty of kudos to Johnson, whom she describes as “phenomenal.”

“She’s 19 going on 40,” Roberts said of Johnson. “She’s the most mature, even-keeled consistent player we have. What I love about her is she is who she is. She’s confident in who she is. She knows who she is. She also is incredibly busy off the court.

“We were talking as we were getting ready to watch film, just shooting the breeze a bunch of us, we were talking about movies. And she was like, Oh, I don’t watch movies. Why not? I don’t have time. I get bored. What do you mean you don’t have time? Do you watch shows? No, I don’t ever watch TV. It is because she is doing all of these other extracurricular activities.”

As for guiding to the Utes to becoming a championship program, Roberts still sees it as an uphill battle – but one that she and her players are ready for.

“I always use the analogy of pushing the boulder up the hill,” she said. “And doing things for the first time, you have to have that mindset. You have to keep pushing. It’s been incredibly fun to see the support, and I think the swell is a perfect word for it. Most importantly, our players feel it.

“This is why you play, right? And it means so much. I know I say it over and over, but this is not going to be a flash-in-the-pan [season]. This isn’t going to be a ‘Oh, remember that year they had such an incredible year?’ We are going to keep doing it.”

RELATED: 2023 March Madness 2023 — Updated bracket, scores and schedule for NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship

2023 March Madness: Updated bracket, scores and schedule for NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship


Editor’s note: We’ll keep this page updated, so be sure to check back here for winners, scores and next-round details as the tournament progresses.

The bracket for 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship is officially set and defending champion South Carolina earned the No. 1 overall seed for the second straight season. A total of 68 teams will see tournament action, beginning with the “First Four” games on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by Round 1 play kicking off on Friday.

On Her Turf has compiled the matchups, sites and schedule for the tournament, which culminates Sunday, April 2 with the title game from American Airlines Center in Dallas.

2023 tournament No. 1 seeds:

  • South Carolina Gamecocks
  • Indiana Hoosiers
  • Virginia Tech Hokies
  • Stanford Cardinal

Last four teams in the tournament:

  • Illinois
  • Mississippi State
  • Purdue
  • St. John’s

First four teams out of the tournament:

  • Columbia
  • Kansas
  • UMass
  • Oregon

RELATED: South Carolina nabs No. 1 overall seed in NCAA women’s basketball tournament

‘First Four’ game schedule

Wednesday, March 15

  • 7 p.m. ET: 11. Illinois vs. 11. Mississippi State (South Bend, Indiana)
    • Winner: Mississippi State, 70-56
  • 9 p.m. ET: 16 Southern U vs. 16 Sacred Heart (Stanford, California)
    • Winner: Sacred Heart, 57-47

Thursday, March 16

  • 7 p.m. ET: 11 Purdue vs. 11 St. John’s (Columbus, Ohio)
    • Winner: St. John’s, 66-64
  • 9 p.m. ET: 16 Tennessee Tech vs. 16 Monmouth (Greenville, S.C.)
    • Winner: Tennessee Tech, 79-69

Bracket, schedule* by region 

*Includes scores, game time and TV network, if available


Columbia, S.C.

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 1. South Carolina 72, 16. Norfolk State 40
    • 8. South Florida 67, 9. Marquette 65
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 1. South Carolina 76, 8. South Florida, 45

Los Angeles, California

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Oklahoma 85, 12. Portland 63
    • 4. UCLA 67, 13. Sacramento State 45
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 4. UCLA vs. 5. Oklahoma, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

South Bend, Indiana

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 6. Creighton 66, 11. Mississippi State 81 (First Four winner)
    • 3. Notre Dame 82, 14. Southern Utah 56
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 3. Notre Dame 53, 11. Mississippi State 48

College Park, Maryland

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 7. Arizona 75, 10. West Virginia 62
    • 2. Maryland 93, 15. Holy Cross 61
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 2. Maryland 77, 7. Arizona 64


Bloomington, Indiana

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 1. Indiana 77, 16. Tennessee Tech 47 (First Four winner)
    • 8. Oklahoma State 61, 9. Miami 62 (FL)
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 1. Indiana vs. 9. Miami, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Villanova, Pennsylvania

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Washington State 63, 12. FGCU 74
    • 4. Villanova 76, 13. Cleveland State 59
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 12. FGCU vs. 4. Villanova, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 6. Michigan 71, 11. UNLV 59
    • 3. LSU 73, 14. Hawaii 50
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 6. Michigan vs. 3. LSU, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Salt Lake City, Utah

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 7. N.C. State 63, 10. Princeton 64
    • 2. Utah 103, 15. Gardner-Webb 77
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 2. Utah vs. 10. Princeton, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)


 Blacksburg, Virginia

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 1. Virginia Tech 58, 16. Chattanooga 33
    • 8. Southern California 57, 9. South Dakota State 62
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 1. Virginia Tech 72, South Dakota State, 60

Knoxville, Tennessee

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Iowa State 73, 12. Toledo 80
    • 4. Tennessee 95, 13. Saint Louis 50
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 12. Toledo vs. 4. Tennessee, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

Columbus, Ohio

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 6. North Carolina 61, 11. St. John’s  59 (First Four winner)
    • 3. Ohio State 80, 14. James Madison 66
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 3. Ohio State vs. 6. North Carolina, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Storrs, Connecticut

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 7. Baylor 78, 10. Alabama 74
    • 2. UConn 95, 15. Vermont 52
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 2. UConn vs. 7. Baylor, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)


Stanford, California

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 1. Stanford 92, 16. Sacred Heart 49 (First Four winner)
    • 8. Ole Miss 71, 9. Gonzaga 48
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 1. Stanford vs. 8. Ole Miss, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Austin, Texas 

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Louisville 83, 12. Drake 81
    • 4. Texas 79, 13. East Carolina 40
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 4. Texas vs. 5. Louisville, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Durham, N.C. 

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 6. Colorado 82, 11. Middle Tennessee State 60
    • 3. Duke 89, 14. Iona 49
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 3. Duke vs. Colorado, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Iowa City, Iowa 

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 7. Florida State 54, 10. Georgia 66
    • 2. Iowa 95, 15. Southeastern Louisiana 43
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 2. Iowa 74, 10. Georgia 66

Regionals/Final Four schedule, how to watch

Sweet 16: Friday and Saturday, March 24-25; Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, S.C., host: Southern Conference and Furman; and Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, hosts: Seattle and Seattle Sports Commission

Elite 8: Sunday and Monday, March 26-27; Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, S.C., host: Southern Conference and Furman; and Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, hosts: Seattle and Seattle Sports Commission

Final 4: Friday, March 31, 7 p.m. ET and 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); American Airlines Center, Dallas; hosts: Big 12 Conference and Dallas Sports Commission

Championship Game: Sunday, April 2, 3 p.m. ET (ABC); American Airlines Center, Dallas; hosts: Big 12 Conference and Dallas Sports Commission

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2023 March Madness — All about the 32 automatic qualifiers