San Antonio–For many students being in college means that you are away from your family and on your own. As a freshman, moving away from home and starting college is a huge transition. You have to learn your way around, figure out which teachers you should take and discover your own way. For freshman Ariel Ornelas, this scenario was very different. Ariel came to St. Mary’s University this year as a member of the Rattler cross country team and an ambitious biology major. Unlike most freshmen going to school far from home, Ariel was not alone. Her big sister, Michelle Ornelas, is a senior at St. Mary’s and was able to help her out along the way.

“I’m pretty sure I would have been freaking out a lot more if she hadn’t been here,” said Ariel, “The first day when my parents dropped me off, it made it a lot easier to transition. I didn’t even feel like my family was leaving because I felt like I was at home with her here.”

Even with her sister here, coming to St. Mary’s was not an automatic decision for Ariel. “I applied at other places, but I got more scholarships here. Plus with Michelle here, I think my parents felt more comfortable. It was just a plus that she was here and in the end I thought maybe it would be a good thing.”

Michelle is biology major, like her sister, and has been a member of the Rattler soccer team since her freshman year. Some of Michelle’s most memorable experiences on the field include helping her team come back to win a game in the last two seconds of play, and scoring against Incarnate Word last season. She originally chose to come to St. Mary’s because she felt that the university, being a smaller institution, would provide her with a better experience.

“I didn’t want to go some place huge,” Michelle said. “I thought that if I was going to play soccer, division two would be a better fit; because there is not as much pressure, you can focus on school more.”

Michelle originally became a member of the team as a walk on; she tried out her freshman year and made the team, earning herself an athletic scholarship. Coach Corwyn Ritch said of Ornelas, “The opposition underestimates Michelle because of her size, but she is one of the hardest working and hardest hitting players I have.” During her time with the Rattlers, Michelle has played in 51 games and has two career goals.

Now with her sister here, Michelle also feels more at home. She is able to spend quality time with her sister. “Everyone assumes that I’m with her and I usually am.”

While the Ornelas sisters have a lot on their plate, they are still trying to be as involved with the St. Mary’s community as they can. Ariel just recently became a member of Beta Beta Beta, and is still looking for more opportunities to get involved. As an experienced senior, Michelle encourages her sister to get involved in the community.

“It’s a good way to meet people; you just have to be able to balance everything,” Michelle said.

Time management and taking care of responsibilities is a big lesson that Michelle is trying to teach Ariel. “If she can get stuff done early (it’s important), because trying to do homework on a bus in Kansas or some other place isn’t easy.”

Michelle admits that balancing school and soccer has been a hard task, “Our teachers are really good about understanding when we aren’t able to make it to class. When you have back-to-back games and away trips it gets really hard, especially with lab. It’s great to have teachers who understand; they have been very helpful.”

Not only do the Ornelas sisters support each other in school, but on the playing field as well. Michelle and Ariel come out to each others games or meets as much as they can.

“Sometimes it’s hard because we have meets and games that overlap but when we can, we really try to support one another.”

Aside from each other; another support system the sisters have is their family back home. The Ornelas family has already traveled down to San Antonio a few times to visit the sisters and attend their athletic events. With the support of her family, Ariel has had an exciting start to her cross country career at St. Mary’s University. So far Ariel has been at the front of the pack for the Rattlers. In her first collegiate meet Ariel came in second place for the Rattlers.

“I was really nervous about it, because I didn’t know how it was going to go,” Ariel recalled. “My parents were there and it was good having them there. I think there had to be another girl named Ariel running because I kept hearing someone yell ‘Ariel’ and I remember thinking ‘that can’t just be my parents’.”

The coming year will be bittersweet for this pair of sisters. Michelle will be graduating in December of 2010, leaving Ariel to finish college on her own. While covering her ears Ariel laughed and said, “I don’t really want to think about it; I’m sure it will be difficult.”

Before Michelle leaves, she will still have eligibility to run cross country for the Rattlers if she wants to. In high school, the sisters ran on the same team, and when asked if she would consider running with Ariel, Michelle said, “Only if I could actually be of some help to the team. I would be up for trying it; I’ve never really considered it before.”

After graduating, Michelle plans on going to graduate school and moving back home to be with her family and spend time with her six year old little sister, who she has not seen much these past four years. Even though Michelle’s time at St. Mary’s will be over, she still plans on making trips back to San Antonio to visit and support Ariel for the remainder of her time as a Rattler.

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