Freed-Hardeman University women's soccer player Ana Aponte was named the 2016 Heart of a Lion Award recipient. The Charlie Smith Heart of a Lion Award is given annually to an FHU senior athlete who has demonstrated qualities of courage, determination, hard work, exemplary performance and service to others. Athletes are nominated and selected by the Freed-Hardeman intercollegiate athletics staff.
"Ana is a true student-athlete in every sense," said Mike McCutchen, FHU athletic director. "She is committed to excellence in all areas of her life and has been able to maintain a balance that includes spiritual, academic, social and athletic development. Ana has been a true Champion of Character and deserves the 2016 Heart of a Lion Award."
Aponte, a defender from Knoxville, Tennessee, was named to the American Midwest All-Conference team last fall. She started every game, leading a defense that conceded only 11 goals against conference opponents. However, her contribution to the Lady Lions went far beyond the stat sheet. As a senior and the most experienced defender on a young team, she was a vocal leader on and off the field.
In addition to her soccer expertise, Aponte has excelled in the classroom, earning a 3.62 grade point average. She was named to the American Midwest Conference All-Academic team three times during her career with the Lady Lions. She was also a two-time NAIA Academic All-American and was named to the NSCAA All-Region Academic Team. She graduated in May with a degree in psychology and will begin FHU’s master’s program in clinical mental health counseling this fall.
Jason Elliott, head coach for the Lady Lion soccer program, said Aponte was very deserving of the honor because of her strong work ethic.
"Ana has been the hardest worker, and she has tremendous character," Elliott said. "She is a leader in church activities, and you never need to worry about her actions off the field. In my 16 years here at Freed-Hardeman, I would place her at the top in character, attitude and work ethic. Ana quietly goes about her job and makes a difference each day by the way she approaches life."
As for Aponte, she described herself as surprised but really happy she won because it is the highest honor a senior athlete at FHU can receive. "I always try to put things into perspective," she said, "and I know that I can always set a better example for my teammates, work harder to be a better person and get better at my sport."
Aponte called her FHU experience awesome. "I have made some of the best friends I hope to have for a long time," she said. "I have played center back with my best friend, and we really work well together," she said. "I am going to miss playing defense with her."
"I feel like I've grown a lot as a person and as a Christian," Aponte said. "I love all of my teammates; they have helped me to become a better athlete and person."