Former Athens soccer player making her mark at NCAA Division I level

By: Mark Vest | Troy Times | Published December 18, 2019

 Former Troy Athens soccer player Ashley Leonard is pictured playing for Western Kentucky University. The 2017 Athens graduate has gone on to achieve academic and athletic success at the NCAA Division I level.

Former Troy Athens soccer player Ashley Leonard is pictured playing for Western Kentucky University. The 2017 Athens graduate has gone on to achieve academic and athletic success at the NCAA Division I level.

Photo provided by Western Kentucky University athletics

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TROY — When 2017 Troy Athens graduate Ashley Leonard was in elementary school, she said she made it a “life goal” to make the high school varsity soccer team as a freshman.

That mission was accomplished.

Following that achievement, Leonard went on to even bigger and better things. She was selected as a first-team All-State player three times and to the Dream Team twice.

The next logical step for a player with that kind of talent is the NCAA Division I level, and that is exactly where Leonard ended up. She went on to play for Western Kentucky University after graduating from Athens.

Earlier this year, Leonard completed her junior season with Western Kentucky, where she is double majoring in international business and international affairs.

“It’s been great,” Leonard said. “It’s a blessing to be able to continue to do the thing that I’ve grown up loving. Not many people get to continue to do that, and I think sometimes it’s easy to take it for granted.”

This past season, Leonard led Western Kentucky with eight goals.

She also earned the Conference USA Fall Spirit of Service Award, which, according to WKU’s website, recognizes student-athletes who have demonstrated “significant community service endeavors, excellent academic standing and notable athletic achievements.”

Leonard is also the leader of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for her team, as well as being the leader of WKU’s service opportunities.

Just as she did as a student-athlete for Athens, Leonard has achieved a lot since making the decision to attend a university away from home.

“I wanted to go to school somewhere where it was a different culture and a different environment that I would be able to experience,” Leonard said. “I really like it so far. The campus is really pretty. The people here are really nice. It was kind of an experience of going off on my own and finding myself by being independent (in) a new place that I wasn’t familiar with.”

As for playing NCAA Division I soccer, Leonard discovered the game was played at a different level than she was used to.

“At first, it was a pretty big adjustment,” Leonard said. “The college game’s a lot faster and a lot more physical and direct than I was used to playing club or high school soccer. … I had to work really hard to catch up and be able to get to the level that I can play at today.”

Aside from her family, Leonard also acknowledged support she has received from Athens coaches Todd Heugh, Adam Burns and Franco Mancini.

“I’m not really surprised by her success,” Heugh said. “She’s very driven and motivated. She doesn’t let, I guess for lack of a better term, obstacles get in her way.”

Despite all that she has had going on in her life, Leonard said, “I think Athens holds a special place in my heart.”

“(It) would blow my mind every single year the amount of love and compassion that this school has for each other and for, I think, Troy in general,” she said. “I got to college, and it’s been easier than some of my high school classes. So, they prepared me exceedingly well.”

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