Orianica Velasquez said when she started to play soccer with her Dad as a 7 year old, she did not expect to one day play soccer and study in the United States.
But for the sophomore forward on the IU women’s soccer team, soccer brought her a visa that carried her dream all the way from Bogota, Colombia to another country.
Known as “Ori” by her coach and teammates, Velasquez has been a crucial offensive asset in IU coach Mick Lyon’s frontline. This season, Velasquez has scored five goals for the Hoosiers, matching her season output from last season.
Growing up in a family of five in Bogota as the youngest daughter of her parents, Velasquez showed her interest in playing soccer at a very young age even though her two older sisters and mother didn’t play the sport.
“I just loved soccer for whatever reasons,” Velasquez said. “My dad used to play a lot of soccer so I played with him.”
Her father, a Colombia soccer amateur who had no professional experience at all, served as a role model that would expand Velasquez’s soccer world across cultural borders.
Because of a lack of female soccer players at a young age, Velasquez played organized soccer games with male players older than her.
As Velasquez grew up, she kept adding to her soccer resume.
She led the Bogota Girls Soccer Club to two championships and played for the Colombian U-20 National Team. She has twice made appearances on her country’s senior national team.
Though Velasquez excelled in South America, she did not first consider playing soccer in the U.S.
Velasquez’s Hoosier story began when Lyon flew to Bogota to meet Velasquez and talk to her family in February 2009.
Lyon said IU men’s tennis coach Randy Bloemendaal told him after a trip to Bogota that he saw a talented young soccer player.
“Randy told me that he thought Ori was a tennis player at first, but Ori told him she played soccer,” Lyon said. “After watching some of her tapes, I decided to fly down there to see her face-to-face.”
Lyon said he was impressed with Velasquez’s skills and potential and wanted to have her on the squad for the next season.
After going through the visa process and academic applications, Velasquez finally donned her IU No. 9 jersey in August 2009.
Velasquez said she selected IU partly because Lyon was the only coach that went to visit her in Columbia.
Coming alone to a place that is so different from her home country, Velasquez said she was worried about adjusting to life in the U.S.
Velasquez said the difference between Colombia and U.S. soccer is that skill sets like dribbling and other fancy moves are more welcome in her home country than in the U.S., where team play is the emphasis.
“Here people play faster,” she said. “They play more organized.”
Soccer was not the only thing that spelled out the difference between the two countries. She said the culture and the language also made Velasquez feel out of place.
“I could not speak English very well when I came here,” Velasquez said. “I took English classes in high school, but it was still hard for me to understand a lot of things here at first.”
But Velasquez remained as motivated in the classroom as on the soccer field. By taking IU’s Intensive English Program, besides regular classes her freshman year, Velasquez adjusted herself to American culture.
“My friends and teammates helped me a lot here,” Velasquez said. “I was nervous at first because I didn’t quite understand what they say, but now I am much more comfortable.”
Velasquez said it is her love for soccer and passion for higher education that supported her experiences on and off the field.
“I’ve always dreamed of going to another country to learn another culture,” Velasquez said, “America has great universities. ...and I can have a great education here.”