Former BYU forward Ashley Hatch sported a United States jersey the last time she stepped onto the field at Rio Tinto Stadium. The fourth official held up her number and the section directly opposite her, filled with her BYU teammates, leapt up, screamed Hatch’s name and waved wildly.
“We all lost our minds,” Royals broadcaster and former BYU player Carla Haslam recalled. “... We were totally fan-girling our own teammate just because we were so excited for her.”
Hatch made her senior national team debut in an international friendly with Switzerland in front of more than 14,000 fans. That was October of her senior year. And now Hatch is set to make her first Rio Tinto appearance as a professional soccer player a year and a half later when she and the Washington Spirit take on the Utah Royals on Saturday.
“I would say Utah is kind of like a second home to me,” said Hatch, an Arizona native.
She has become one of the most promising forwards in the NWSL since leaving BYU. Hatch, who was traded to the Spirit in the offseason, was drafted by North Carolina No. 2 overall in 2017. She scored in her first start of what would become a Rookie-of-the-Year-winning campaign.
Her first professional goal came against now-defunct FC Kansas City, the core of which was relocated to Utah this season. Hatch ran onto a cross, took a touch and hit a scorcher from close range. But her celebration was what her former BYU teammates latched onto. She threw both hands up and pulled them down into two fists.
“I know when she does that, she’s actually pumped,” Haslam said.
Former BYU defender Taylor Isom, who the Royals selected in the second round of the 2018 NWSL Draft, described the double-fist celebration as one for a “hard-work-earned goal.”
Hatch’s phone was filled with congratulations messages from former teammates by the end of the match.
“I had such a great time at BYU,” Hatch said, “and some of my favorite memories I think are off the field, just being able to spend time with such amazing girls. I made some of my best friends at BYU. I still talk to them to this day. And we just all loved each other so much and wanted the best for each other.”
They took pictures together with the opposing team’s mascot before every away match, toured Italy, threw bridal showers.
For Hatch, every comeback win and goal celebration also stands out in a span of four years in which BYU made a trip to the NCAA tournament every season.
Hatch became one of the top 10 scorers in program history despite a knee injury her junior year that sidelined her for half the season. She practically was limping ahead of a match at Long Beach State, BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood said, but Hatch said she was good to start. She scored the winning goal, and an X-ray after the team returned to Utah revealed a fracture in Hatch’s knee.
“So she scored a goal on a broken bone,” Isom said. “Like what?”
Hatch’s college career ended with a season that included two hat tricks and BYU’s first trip to the third round of the NCAA tournament since 2012. She was pulled away from two conference matches on international duty that season .
“Some of the girls teared up they were so excited when we announced [her call-up] at practice,” Rockwood said. “And so we just got all together and got the tickets. I was running around taking pictures down in front. I was like a proud parent, too.”
Hatch won’t see quite level of support Saturday as she did a year and a half ago when she was a BYU player representing the United States just 35 miles up the road. But about 20 friends and family members have confirmed to Hatch that they’ll be at Saturday’s game. The likelihood that more will show up? Very high.
“I’ve been looking forward to playing there ever since they announced there would be a club” in Utah, Hatch said.
WASHINGTON SPIRIT AT UTAH ROYALS
When • 7 p.m. Saturday
Where • Rio Tinto Stadium