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

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP COVERAGE: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

MORE IBSF WORLD CUP: Kelly Curtis notches career-best finish with top five at Park City skeleton World Cup

“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.