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Jaren Wilkey, BYU Photo
Ashley Hatch salutes the flag before a match at South Field with the BYU women's soccer team.

PROVO — At age 15, most high school students are busy uploading the perfect selfie, playing video games or crushing on that cute guy or girl. For teenagers, birthday time often means the chance to ask parents for the newest clothes, games or technology.

Ashley Hatch wasn’t like most teenagers, though. She just wanted to play soccer. This often proved difficult in her native Arizona during the blistering heat of summer. While a freshman in high school, her desire to play soccer led her to ask her parents for an interesting birthday present.

“It was brutal training in the summer in Arizona,” Hatch said. “We would have to wake up super early or we would have to work out super late just so the sun wasn’t up, and it was still hot. My birthday is in the summer, and one year I actually asked for a generator for my birthday so we could put lights at the park and practice at night and early mornings. So I got a mini-generator for my birthday.”

Hatch used her generator and lights to train twice daily with her sister and teammate in high school and at BYU, Brianna Hatch. The Hatch sisters appeared to neighbors to be constantly playing soccer.

“There was a park right across the street from our house,” Hatch said. “Our neighbors joke around that it’s the ‘Hatch’ park because me and my sister were always out there after school and before or after club practice just kicking the ball around and practicing and going against each other. Our dad would come out if we wanted him to and he would only come out if we wanted him to, he would never drag us out there and say hey we need to practice, it was on us.”

Hatch’s hard work paid off. She was a key member of a state champion soccer team in high school, and was the runner-up for the player of the year in Arizona. There she received an offer to play for BYU. At college, her success continued. She finished her senior year a 2016 first team All-American and helped BYU reach the NCAA Sweet Sixteen. Hatch placed third in the NCAA in goals. Hatch was on track to lead the nation in goals until she took a two-week hiatus to moonlight for the USWNT. Last October, she got her first cap at Rio Tinto Stadium in a friendly against Switzerland. Hatch called the experience awesome.

“Playing with the USWNT at Rio Tinto, it was a week I’ll never forget,” Hatch said. “I learned a lot. When coach Jen (Rockwood) called and told me that they were calling me into camp, I was just kind of in shock. It was a really special moment seeing my former teammates and friends from BYU all up at Rio and I felt so much love from teammates and from fans in Utah overall.”

While at camp, one of Hatch’s hero’s was the first to welcome her to the team.

“I met Carli Lloyd, and it was unreal,” Hatch said. “She came up to me and shook my hand and introduced herself to me, and I was like, ‘I already know who you are.’ I really admired that, and it was really fun to meet her and all the girls on the team.”

Former BYU forward Hatch has just a few more finals to take before she heads out to begin her career as a professional soccer player for the North Carolina Courage. Hatch’s childhood dream came true last month when she was taken No. 2 overall in the National Women’s Soccer League draft.

Hatch’s work ethic has set her apart on the field and off. Hatch, now done with her collegiate career, will compete with many of her soccer heroes in the NWSL like Lloyd, Christen Press, Tobin Health and Julie Johnston. The Courage play their season opener on April 15 against the Washington Spirit.

While most assume Hatch has been playing soccer since she could walk, this wasn’t actually the case.

“My first sport ever was actually tennis,” Hatch said. “So I started playing tennis, but it wasn’t enough running for me, so I ran cross-country and track. When I was 8 though, all my friends decided to play rec league soccer, and so I just decided to sign up for fun.”

At first, Hatch didn’t understand soccer. She reiterated that hard work, and not just natural talent, got her to where she is today.

“I remember my first practice ever, I hated it,” Hatch said. “I thought you could just run wherever and chase the ball, but at age 8 they actually had positions and so my coach would say you have to stay inside and wait for the ball and I was so confused. I remember going home and telling my parents, ‘I don’t want to play soccer.’ It took some time to get good. I was fast though, and that really helped, and I would just try to run faster than everyone else. But my dad really worked with me to get good ball control and getting useful feet. My first season I didn’t score a single goal and I definitely wasn’t a natural. But I worked really hard and my second year I scored a bunch of goals and thought it was so much fun. It wasn’t from day one that I thought ‘oh, soccer is my destiny.’”

As Hatch fell in love with soccer and dreamed of being a professional someday, she noted that people often told her to curb her expectations. Hatch refused to listen.

“I’ve always dreamt as a kid about how cool it would be to play professional soccer,” Hatch said. “But you always hear so many people putting that kind of dream down. In the back of my mind I always wanted to play professional soccer and I didn’t want it to slip by me and not trying hard and having that possibility come up and regret not working hard. It’s always been a dream of mine, and that’s why draft day was a dream come true for me. I am really glad that I believed in my gut feeling and kept working hard.”

Hatch emphasized that being an athlete isn’t all fun and games; it’s a true meritocracy. Hatch encouraged young athletes to chase dreams by working hard.

“I would just say to young fans,” Hatch said. “That whatever they want to achieve they can, but, if they want it, they have to put in the work. It’s not fair to want something and not put in the work. If they want to play for BYU, great, play for BYU, but you have to put in the work now and put in the extra work and the extra sprints, the extra touches, and sometimes it’s not fun, but if it’s what you really want you can make it fun. Don’t ever give up on your dreams and don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t do anything.”

Hatch said growing up, she looked up to her dad and the work ethic of track legend Lolo Jones.

“My dad is the first person that comes to mind,” Hatch said. “I always looked up to him and I always wanted to be like my dad growing up. Another hero of mine is Olympian Lolo Jones, who ran the hurdles. She made it to the Olympics and she was in first until the very last hurdle and tripped and lost. Her resilience and never wanting to give up has inspired me and a lot of things she has gone through have helped me get through some of the struggles of sports and keep fighting to get better.”

Hatch, who leaves her BYU home of the last four years next month, reflected on her career.

“It’s bittersweet leaving BYU,” Hatch said. “I will miss it a lot and I will miss a lot of my friends and teammates. Playing soccer at BYU I learned that life is a journey and you can make it what you want it to be. You can go full in and continue with that journey with a positive attitude and work through things or you can take the negative side and want to back off and because you are scared of what’s going to happen. I am excited to leave though and bring a little bit of BYU with me and hopefully show the world how great BYU is through my actions or what I do away from BYU.”

Now Hatch will play under the big lights as a professional soccer player for the NC Courage. This time she won’t need her mini-generator.