STARKVILLE — Ariana Holmes has seen her mother in pain.
Whether it’s in her knee or in her back, Ruthie Holmes lives with a constant reminder of the injury she suffered working as a member of the California Highway Patrol. Through all of the visits to the doctor and shots to make her feel more comfortable in the past 20 years, Ruthie Holmes hasn’t allowed that pain to diminish her relationship with Ariana and her other daughter, Bri.
There have been long drives to volleyball and soccer matches that sometimes have taken them nine hours from their home in California. More recently, Ruthie Holmes has found a way to balance her time and to see both of her children continue their athletic careers in college. That task has been easier the past few years, as Ariana has been a soccer standout at Fresno State and Bri has played volleyball at University of California, Riverside.
This season, though, the Holmes family will begin a new chapter in the Southeastern Conference. The decisions of Ariana to transfer to Mississippi State to play soccer and Bri to transfer to Tennessee to play
volleyball mean Ruthie Holmes will be earning a lot of frequent flyer miles in the next two years. It remains to be seen how Ruthie will juggle her schedule or how many times she will see each daughter play, but Ariana and Bri will move forward knowing their mother will continue to be there for them and do anything she can to be a strong role model.
“My mom is everything to me. She means a lot,” Holmes said. “We have been through a lot. My parents were divorced when I was in the fourth grade, and my sister and I decided to live with my mom. It was a really long divorce, but she just stayed strong.”
Ariana Holmes has stayed strong, too. The Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year transferred from Fresno State after two years and 35 starts. Her decision to transfer to MSU and be a part of the “football school experience,” as Ruthie Holmes puts it, has given Aaron Gordon a defensive presence his team has lacked for the past two seasons.
At 5-foot-10, Ariana Holmes has helped anchor the Bulldogs’ defense at center back with a physical and skilled style of play. Holmes will showcase her brand of soccer for the first official time in a MSU uniform at 10 a.m. Wednesday when MSU opens its exhibition season with a match at Tennessee-Martin.
The match will be twice as significant for Holmes, who will celebrate her 20th birthday.
“I just want to do my best and help the team,” Holmes said. “Whatever anybody needs, even if it is off the field or on the field, I am going to be there for my teammates. Hopefully that will make everybody see we are all in this together and we have to help each other.”
Last season, Holmes played in 18 of 20 games at Fresno State. She started 15 games, including the final nine of the season. She had the second most assists on the team (three) and logged 1,402 minutes. Her performance came a year after she played an integral role in helping Fresno State record seven shutouts. Her efforts helped her earn second-team All-Mountain West honors and the league’s award for the top freshman.
This season, Holmes will try to make her imprint on a MSU defense that has allowed 53 and 42 goals the past two seasons. The Bulldogs have won six games in that span. But Gordon, who is entering his third season, believes Holmes has strengthened his team’s defense in a number of ways.
“She plays like she is 6-foot,” Gordon said. “She is physically good in the air. She brings a lot of physicality. I wouldn’t classify her as a burner in terms of someone who has electric speed, but she has fast, powerful, strong speed. If she gets on you, it doesn’t really matter how fast you are, she is going to win that battle.”
Gordon also said Holmes’ ball striking ability is “exceptional.” He said that part of Holmes’ game has exceeded his expectations because he and his assistant coaches didn’t see it watching video of her past performances. Gordon said the Bulldogs saw all of those qualities in the spring when Holmes played every game at center back.
But Gordon had a feeling about Ariana Holmes before she even put on a MSU uniform. His understanding came from meeting Ruthie Holmes and seeing her do her “due diligence” to make sure Ariana was going to transfer to a school that was going to provide her with the right mix of academic and athletic experiences. He also sensed Ruthie Holmes wanted Ariana to find a coaching staff that could help her grow. He welcomed the honest nature of their conversations and felt Ruthie and Ariana knew what they wanted. At the end of the Holmes’ visit to Starkville, Gordon hoped he would get a chance to coach her.
“She has blown away all of my expectations,” Gordon said. “I thought she was going to be a good player, but she is even better than I thought she would be.
“I am thrilled we have her. She really plugs a hole we need.”
Ruthie Holmes said Ariana has been playing soccer since she was 5 years old. Still, she was surprised when Ariana told her after she graduated from high school that she was going to play soccer in college. Ariana had played a lot of club volleyball, so Ruthie thought she was going to be like Bri and play volleyball.
But the twist in plans didn’t sidetrack the Holmes family. That shouldn’t be surprising, though, because Ruthie has overcome obstacles in her life and has remained a constant in the lives of her daughters. She said she was injured on the job in 1995 or 1996 and had to take disability and retire. She said she started in law enforcement when she was 21 and likely would be at a point where she would be retiring anyway. Ruthie Holmes said she has a few part-time jobs that help her pay her bills. She said her injuries actually make her more available to travel to see her daughters play, which she said is a “blessing.”
“I am definitely inspired by my girls to keep working out,” Ruthie Holmes said. “Even though I have a disability, I continue to fight through it.
“My girls are the reason. They keep me going, and I want to be a positive role model for them.”
Ruthie Holmes’ attitude has influenced Ariana. In one of her biographies at Fresno State, Ariana wrote that her mother is “brave, strong, and always works hard.” She said her mother retired when she was 4 years old and that she and her sister never were handed the “short stick” growing up and that her mother always tried to do the best she could for them.
“I feel those are the words she deserves,” Holmes said of her comments about her mother in her biography. “She deserves more, but that is the best I can say.”
Ariana said she will continue to play for her mother because of everything she has done for her in her life. She said her mother has remained mentally strong and has kept a positive attitude that has served as a source of motivation for her and her sister.
“Her and my sister are my rocks,” Holmes said. “Every time something gets hard I am like, ‘What would my mom do? What would my sister do? What would they say to me right now?’ ”
Gordon is eager to have Ariana Holmes be that “rock” for MSU. He is sure Holmes can assume that role because he sees a “confidence” in Ruthie Holmes and her family that lets him know his defense is in good hands.
Ruthie Holmes also has that confidence. She feels Ariana made a great choice picking MSU, where she will study criminology, and Gordon’s program. She isn’t sure how many of MSU’s games she will get to in person, but she knows Ariana will do her best to overcome any obstacles for her teammates and her new team.
“All three of us are really close,” Ruthie Holmes said. “I have always tried to have a relationship with my daughters and to talk to them about everything. Ari is one to ask questions. She will not beat around the bush. One of the things I know I have talked to her about is her being a strong female, so I think to see me go through what I have gone through, I have remained strong and independent. I try to be a role model. I try to stay in a positive light.
“I could have given up and been in a wheel chair a long time ago. She has seen me in pain at the doctors office. She has seen all of that. Bri has seen it, too. … They have been my right arm, so to speak. I am blessed. I have very good kids. I am truly blessed.”
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.