Provo • Ashley Hatch struggles to describe the feeling she gets when she sees one of her rocket shots settle into the back of the net during BYU women's soccer matches.
That's surprising, because it happens a lot.
The sophomore from Gilbert, Ariz., has turned into a scoring machine for the red-hot Cougars, who are on a nine-game winning streak and ranked No. 19 in the country in this week's NSCAA poll. BYU (10-3-2, 4-0-0) plays host to perennial West Coast Conference power Santa Clara on Thursday (7 p.m., BYUtv) having won 11 straight WCC matches dating back to last season.
"I don't even know how to explain it, but it is a great feeling when you score," Hatch said. "All your hard work as a team pays off when the ball hits the back of the net, and that's your reward."
The Cougars have outscored their opponents 26-8 in their last nine matches, after getting outscored 4-3 in their first five, and Hatch's scoring prowess is a big reason why. She had BYU's first hat trick since 2005 with three goals against Portland on Oct. 9, and leads the club with 29 points off 12 goals and five assists.
Coach Jennifer Rockwood isn't surprised. She knew Hatch was a special talent when Hatch attended a soccer camp in Provo as a freshman in high school. Rockwood offered her a scholarship two years later.
"We knew she had the potential to be one of the best strikers we have had, absolutely," Rockwood said. "She's just a shooter and a goal-scorer. She has that natural, innate desire to get her shot off. A lot of times, girls want to pass, or they don't want to take that responsibility. She just looks for every opportunity to shoot."
And when she does shoot, rest assured that everybody on the pitch and in the stands knows it.
"When she hits her shot, it is as hard as anything I've seen," Rockwood said. "And the fact that she can get her own shot off is something that is very special."
Hatch was an immediate star for the nationally prominent program that Rockwood has built at BYU, scoring six goals and posting seven assists as a freshman. She made the all-WCC freshman team and was honorable mention all-WCC.
Now, she's even better.
"You get 200 percent from her every day in practice, and it pays off for her in games," Rockwood said. "She is already a much better player right now than she was last year, just through her work ethic and desire."
Hatch began playing soccer in California when she was 8, and steadily improved after her family moved to St. George and then Arizona. She credits her father, Barry, a former college baseball player, wrestler and wrestling coach, for training her and her younger sister, Brianna, who will play for BYU next year.
Hatch describes herself as a player "hungry to score who has passion for the game and great teammates who feed her the ball and make her better every game."
And those blistering shots she's famous for?
"Just a lot of practice," she said. "A lot of it is having it on your mind, and thinking, 'shoot first, pass second' when you are in the box."
The Cougars play their final home league match on Saturday against San Francisco, then hit the road to wrap up league play at Saint Mary's, Pacific and Pepperdine.