A pair of Governors that represent the past, present and future of APSU athletics are additionally representing their families and heritage while they play on the Puerto Rico Women’s Basketball National Team in hopes of participating in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
APSU alumna Arielle Gonzalez-Varner and current Gov Nina De Leon Negron each helped Puerto Rico capture four straight wins and collect a gold medal in the FIBA Women’s Centrobasket Tournament in El Salvador in late March.
De Leon Negron is no stranger to the national spotlight of her home country. Prior to arriving in Clarksville, she was a member of the Puerto Rican National Team at the Centrobasket U17 Women’s Championship where she averaged an impressive 15 points and five assists per game.
While De Leon Negron is the first Puerto Rican-born player in program history for APSU, she is not the first with family roots to the Island of Enchantment.
Arielle Gonzalez-Varner began her career for the Govs in 2016 under former head coach David Midlick and graduated following the 2019-20 season.
A staple throughout her collegiate career, Gonzalez-Varner led APSU in points (10.4), rebounds (7.2), steals (50), blocks (17) and field goal percentage (49.8%) during her senior campaign for the red and black.
While AGV was dominating the OVC during her career at APSU, she was also being recruited by Puerto Rico’s head coach Gerardo Batista. However, she was unable to play under for the 2019-20 Puerto Rican team that qualified for the then-2020 Olympics due to her and her mother unable to find her grandfather’s birth certificate, where her Puerto Rican heritage stems from.
After locating the certificate just six days prior to her plane leaving, AGV was able to finally able to join Coach Batista and represent her family’s heritage.
In addition, she was also able to meet De Leon Negron for the first time prior to the tournament. The two Govs quickly formed a close bond.
“It was great to see a familiar face once I got there,” Gonzalez-Varner said. “I had not actually met her before, but I knew who she was. Obviously, I had watched her play when I watched my [former] teammates play this past year. It was just kind of cool to talk about our teammates and coaches and compare our thoughts on them and share funny stories about them, too. It was really cool because we would facetime some of the girls on the team to show, ‘Hey, we’re together right now.’
“It’s just so weird because I graduated the year she came in. She is such a nice girl too. She’s so funny and has a great energy all the time. She was the loudest person cheering on the bench, after me, of course. She is just a great spirit. I definitely see how she fits into the Austin Peay culture.”
The duo appeared in all four contests on their way a gold medal. Puerto Rico defeated their four opponents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands by an average of over 23 points a game.
Gonzalez-Varner provided veteran leadership to the young guard, but the senior forward says that De Leon Negron also helped her when it came to the language barrier in Puerto Rico.
“From a basketball aspect, I would say that I took her under my wing,” AGV said. “We play different positions, but I did naturally say things like, ‘Nina, do this instead of that. This would be a better decision.’ Just those types of things. So, if we’re talking experience-wise I did, but if we are just talking in general, she definitely took me under her wing as well. She is bilingual, so I definitely found myself standing behind her in the lines and asking what people were saying or asking her to tell them something for me. Having her was just so helpful.
“There were other bilingual teammates, but you feel more comfortable with some people more than others, especially if it is something that could be embarrassing. She definitely helped me out a lot in that way, just getting around and making sure that I was understanding what the coaches were directing us to do. They were bilingual as well, but sometimes there were things that do not translate exactly right to English from Spanish so Nina would kind of break it down for me.”
Up next for the duo, they will travel to Edmonton, Canada for the FIBA AmeriCup Tournament that begins on June 19. Puerto Rico will then travel to Tokyo, Japan for its first ever Summer Olympic Games.