Wednesday October 25, 2017 - From her international debut with the U.S. Women's National Team in October of 2016 to being named National Women's Soccer League Rookie of the Year in October of this year, Ashley Hatch has had quite a year.
The second overall selection in the 2017 NWSL Draft by the North Carolina Courage, Hatch (Highland High School) took the league by storm scoring seven goals, including three game-winners, en route to helping her team advance to the NWSL Championship match where they fell to the Portland Thorns FC by a score of 1-0.
While the cliff notes from the last 365 days sound glamorous and full of great success, Hatch will tell you that it wasn't always an easy path from the fields at Reach 11 to the professional ranks.
"I just learned that hard work eventually pays off. You never know when it will pay off, but it's always worth it to keep working hard no matter if you're playing or not. This season I was off and on with starting and being on the bench and I just told myself that no matter what position I was in I was going to keep working hard. The thing I thought that was cool playing in the NWSL this year is that everyone's story is different. Everyone got to where they are in a different way. You don't need to do the same thing as everyone else. Your story and your journey are going to be different. If you just focus on working hard and having fun it will all work out."
You can credit this optimistic outlook to her days playing against California clubs as a member of MSC United and Arizona Arsenal 95 Premier Teal. While many are intimidated by the talent that California produces, Hatch fully embraced the challenge and saw it as a way to test and improve herself.
"Because we are so close to California, it gives you a lot of opportunities to play against great teams. Oftentimes college coaches were coming to watch the Blues, Surf, or other clubs and while they are watching those teams they are also watching you. Good competition creates great opportunities to compete against good competition. You can show college coaches what you got even though they are not there to watch you. I had coaches email me when I was younger saying they weren't there to watch me, but they noticed me from watching someone else. I think being able to compete against good competition really helped my development."
It was through this development that eventually led her to Brigham Young University where she scored 47 goals in 75 matches and eventually attracted the eyes of U.S. Soccer scouts. In 2015, Hatch, who had never received a call-up at any age level, was invited to her first camp at the U23 level.
"It was an honor and it took me by surprise. Growing up I was never in the player pool for the U15, U16, or U18 camps. Just getting called in was exciting knowing that there are people watching and you never know when you will get your opportunity. I got an email one day and I was like, 'Is this a joke? Is this real?'. I was really stoked for my first camp and I wanted to come back again."
Hatch did receive more call-ups to the U23 Women's National Team, which eventually led to her first call-up to the senior squad and her international debut.
"That was also a huge surprise and honor. It sounds cliche, but it was a dream come true. It was one of those feelings that every kid dreams of when watching others players make their debut. It was one of those moments that made me think, 'Wow, I'm here'."
While Hatch's journey is unique, she did offer advice to the current pool of players in Arizona looking to make it to the next level.
"I would just say there are opportunities everywhere even if you don't see them. If you're not getting college coaches to your game, reach out to them go to their camps. There are a lot of opportunities out there. I wouldn't just solely bank on coaches coming out to watch you play. Sometimes they won't give you the time unless you reach out to them. Showing interest, doing your homework, and seeing what colleges are interested are all things you should do. I just hope the girls at that young age can make it to that level if they want to because they can."
For now, Hatch's journey takes her to Australia where she has been loaned out to W-League champions Melbourne City for the 2017-18 W-League season. Even though she is more than 8,000 miles away from her home state, she still has fond memories of playing in the desert.
"I honestly just loved going to soccer tournaments especially at Reach 11. When I think of my childhood, I think of the weekend. Going to soccer fields and just competing. I had so much fun with my team and trying to win games."