My name is Noel Ortega and I am a current freshman at Cornell University in the College of Arts and Sciences and I have not declared my major. I play soccer at this Ivy League institution at the Division One collegiate level. I am honored and proud to say that I come from a Latino/Hispanic background that has taught me many of the values and characteristics that I hold close to my heart. My journey has not been easy but I am grateful for where I am today and excited for what my future holds.
I come from a family of five which includes my dad, mom, older sister, and younger brother. Both of my parents came to the United States illegally looking to pursue a better life full of greater opportunities for both themselves and for my siblings and I. Both of my parents only got up to sixth grade so they never really had a proper school education which is why they heavily instilled the importance of school into my siblings. My parents were only able to help us with school work throughout our elementary and the beginning couple of school years because that was most of the academic knowledge that they had. For me personally, my sister was the one who I would reach to when in need of help for school because she had already been through what I was going through and I am vastly grateful for her because she never refused to help me when I needed it and that was mainly why I take pride in helping my younger brother whenever he needs my help. My sister led the way for me and my brother academically as she set the example for how to succeed in school. She is one of the role models I admire because I molded my academic work habits and skills based on what she did in the classroom.
We are a very tight knit family who are always there to support one another no matter the circumstances. We have lived in the same little one bedroom and one bedroom apartment for my entire life. We squeezed into one bedroom with a bunk bed and a normal queen sized bed in the room while one or two had to sleep on the couch in the living room or on the ground. Having such a small space to live brought us together as a family but it was also challenging sometimes. For example, studying was complicated as it was never really quite within these walls. There was always something going on with my siblings and mom which could be distracting. I did not have a desk or work space so I had to do homework on my bed. My dad is the only one who worked in the family so he put a roof over our heads and food on our table and I will never be able to thank him enough for what he has done for me. Although he had to work out of state for months, he never failed to show us the care and love he has for us. This was difficult for my mom and siblings because he would have to leave to other states to work with his construction company and he would only come home once every two or three months because plane tickets were expensive or simply because there was not much free time off work to come, but I greatly applaud my dad because of the hard work he faced in order to help us survive.
On a different note, I started to play soccer when I was five years old with the help of one of my closest friends who got me into his team. We were playing soccer during recess in elementary when he told me that he played in a real team and I was immediately interested. We told our parents about it and I joined the team. I played at the local recreational league for years until when I was about 13. I joined my first club at this age but I was not getting much playing time as I was in a team with kids one or two years older. At the end of that season, the coaches told me that the academy team for my age group was going to happen the next season and that I should try out for it. I went to the tryouts and after many practices, I made the academy team and from there on out everything has been going upwards. This was when I realized that soccer could take me places. I played my freshman and junior year in the US Development Academy and my sophomore and senior year at my high school. I was seen by Cornell University during my time at the academy during my junior year. I did not know that the coach had been scouting me until one day my academy coach texted me a name and a phone number. He told me that this was the Cornell head coach and that he wanted me to call him. I did not know what to expect in reality and I did not know that this phone call would change my life. I called and the head coach said to me that he was looking for an attacking midfielder/winger who was creative, able to drive at players, and make plays happen and he said that I was the one. He mentioned that he first saw me play in the academy showcase in Florida and that he had been keeping up with my games. He expressed his interest for me and we talked some more. He asked me to send him my transcript and a couple of my game films to further look at me. We kept in constant touch with one another and he finally came to watch me play in the San Diego Surf Cup when I played with the Yours In Soccer & Access U team.
I was part of this program for a couple of years now where they helped me stay on track academically and with whatever help I needed as well as help me expose my soccer skills in order to help me reach the next level in my career which was getting to the collegiate level. I had been to the Surf Cup one time when I played with an older age group but when I played with my age group was when I had been talking to Cornell. The head coach was extremely interested in me and wanted to watch me play so he flew out from New York to the sunny San Diego, California to see me play live. I was able to attend a college soccer camp which included many different universities' head coaches and the Cornell coach was one of them. He got to see my soccer talents at this camp and throughout the three games that I played. We talked after each game on the phone as we had to abide by the NCAA rules. Beto Vega, my mentor at Yours in soccer and with help from Access U, also had several conversations with him about me. This was a very crucial couple of games because this is where he was going to make his decision and at the end of the three games, we had a talk over the phone which was when he told me he loved what he saw and he was ready to make the next step. I had my mind on going to Cornell because of its soccer and furthermore its high quality academics. This call was when we sealed the deal and I verbally committed to go to Cornell University. The next year I played high school soccer where we won the LA Division 1 City Championship and we reached the State semifinals. That year I was named the All-Area Player of the Year and I recorded 23 goals and 20 assists as I prepared to go into college soccer.
As the time got closer to leave, I had some worries. I was nervous about moving to the other side of the country on my own. I knew the weather was going to be drastically different and I would not be seeing my beloved California Sun and hot weather. I doubted my intellectual abilities many times and I was just scared as the time got closer. Finally it was time to go and so I did. Going into my first year was a whole different experience. I saw new faces and it was different to what I had seen my entire life. The Latino population was nowhere near to what it is in my home town which was a bit intimidating for me. Within the first days and weeks, I noticed that everyone at this school was extremely smart and doubt flooded my mind. Am I smart enough? Do I belong here? Did they make a mistake with my acceptance? These were all real questions that I asked myself. As time passed, I figured out that I was smart enough to be here and I do belong here (I had a 4.18 GPA to support my thought). I just had to put in the effort in the classroom. College is a whole different ball game and it is much more academically rigorous. I had to adapt and alter my study methods in order to succeed, which was something I had never done. I was never a person to study long hours but I figured out that this was necessary here. Time passed and I felt better. I had the soccer team as support and the athletic department was always there to help with whatever we needed. People ask me if I ever felt homesick but the reality is that keeping myself busy avoided me from feeling that way. I always had something to do whether it be related to soccer or to academics. This brings up another topic which is the importance of time management. In college, I am making the decisions for myself at all moments of the day. I do not have my mom telling me what to do or not to do. I do not have someone telling me where to go or reminding me what I have to get done so I think time management is a must have to be able to stay organized and on top of everything to do. I personally write down events, assignments, and things I have to do in a calendar so that I can see it on paper and not forget it.
Playing college soccer has been a fun experience and something I have been working towards my entire life. I am grateful for all the game days, the loads of gear we receive, the facilities, the traveling, etc. The brotherhood that is created within this team is special. We train together, we hurt together, we lose together, we win together, we succeed together, and most importantly, we grow together. Everything soccer has done for me has impacted my life for the better and I am grateful to be able to put my academics and soccer in conjunction to help me get where I am today.