Diana Ordoñez is used to being the young one.
The 2021 ACC leading scorer is projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2022 NWSL College Draft after deciding to leave the University of Virginia a year early. She found herself in a similar situation three years earlier when she graduated high school a semester ahead of her peers, despite already being young for her grade, and arrived at UVA as a 17-year-old.
“I don’t really think about my age too much because before I did, and it would kind of hinder me from a lot of things,” Ordoñez said. “But now, I mean, I’m just doing what everybody else is doing — it doesn’t really matter how old I am.”
Sitting in front of neatly organized shelves during a Zoom call on Thursday, Ordoñez explained the carefully thought-out academic plan she had made at the start of the summer for her junior year, just in case turning pro and graduating college at the age of 20 became a reality.
“[My parents] were really supportive,” said Ordoñez. “They obviously guided me through pros and cons and things like that, but at the end of the day, they were like, ‘We support your decision if you want to go back to school. And if you want to go pro, then you go do that.’”
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Finishing her 2021 season as an All-American and MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, the timing seemed right to declare for the NWSL draft.
If her production hadn’t been where she wanted it, Ordoñez would have waited another year. But the forward scored 18 goals during the season, which was first in the ACC and second in the nation. She also finished her collegiate career tied for third on UVA’s all-time goal-scoring list with 45 and sixth on the program’s all-time points list with 102.
Coming into season knowing it was potentially her last, Ordoñez focused on refining the small, technical details of her game, like first touch and execution in front of goal.
“No matter how good my finishing is, I always say that I can work on my finishing,” said the ACC Offensive Player of the Year. “Especially being the nine, someone who is expected to produce and score goals, that’s something I will never stop working on. No matter how good you are at it, I just don’t think there’s anything you can just kind of be like, ‘OK, check that off, I’m good at that,’ and then move on.”
Her goal-scoring technique will be under even more acute scrutiny at the next level, but Ordoñez embraces the challenges that come with being a pro, referring to the NWSL as a “whole different beast.”
“At the end of the day, I’m a rookie,” she said. “That’s the reality of my first season.
“No matter where I go, chances are there’s going to be a world-class person starting in my position already, and to me that’s really, really exciting. Even if I don’t necessarily get as many minutes as I want in the beginning, I can just soak up everything that environment has to offer.”
Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.