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Jaren Wilkey/BYU
BYU's Ashley Hatch advances the ball during a game against the University of Utah.
It's not easy knowing when and how to take shots in soccer, but for Ashley it comes very naturally, and that's a special thing. —BYU head women's soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood

PROVO — With her incredibly frustrating junior season behind her, BYU's Ashley Hatch is playing as well as any forward Cougar coach Jennifer Rockwood has seen pass through the program. The senior has led the No. 7-ranked Cougars out to a 5-1 record heading into Monday's match versus No. 19-ranked Ohio State and seemingly primed to reach new heights.

Hatch's stats speak for themselves. Eight goals scored in just six games played, good for second place nationally, and include a three-goal barrage in a 3-2 Cougar win on the road against No. 5-ranked Penn State back on Aug. 26.

"Her Penn State game was one of the best games I've ever seen played by anyone anywhere," Rockwood, who has coached at BYU since 1995, said. "It wasn't just the goals. It was her winning the ball more than anyone, getting the most touches — she's just been phenomenal for us and playing as well as anyone I've coached here."

Hatch's 2016 campaign isn't surprising, given her natural talent coupled with a work ethic that was perhaps accelerated coming off a largely frustrating 2015 season.

Hatch entered last season having led the team with 18 goals scored — earning herself All-American honors as just a sophomore. Then, just eight games into the season, her promising junior season took a big detour after incurring a fractured tibia.

The 5-foot-9 Gilbert, Arizona, native didn't want to believe the worst about her injury, and even played two games after sustaining the injury before shutting it down.

"The pain just became too unbearable," Hatch said. "I tried to shake it off, work through it, but I just knew something wasn't right, and it was something more serious than I wanted to believe."

Hatch was forced to watch from the sidelines the entire month of October, returning in time for the NCAA tournament where the Cougars were bounced in the second round to Stanford.

While she struggled to regain her form upon returning to the lineup in 2015, her teammates were mindful to pick up the slack her absence left behind — most notably Nadia Gomes. Gomes equaled Hatch's feat of being named an All-American, as a sophomore, while earning herself West Coast Conference Player of the Year honors.

"We were a little panicked when we lost Ashley, but there's no question other players stepped up, and it's absolutely benefited us this year now that Ashley is back and playing the best she's ever played," Rockwood said. "Nadia isn't scoring as much, but she's helping us so much in other ways — particularly assisting on five of our goals and so many other things."

While sitting about half a season was frustrating, Hatch, upon reflection, is ultimately thankful to have worked through it. "I wouldn't have changed a thing, and I feel going through it has made me, and more importantly my team, better for it," she said.

As for Hatch's team, it includes a wealth of experience with almost every notable contributor off of the 2015 team returning for 2016. Central to the top contributors are a prolific trio of forwards, which includes Hatch, Gomes and senior Michele Vasconcelos. Recently, Vasconcelos earned herself WCC Player of the Week honors with a two-goal performance in a 4-0 win over SMU.

"These are the three best attacking forwards I've ever had at any one time," Rockwood said. "With all of them, and especially with Ashley, it's not just scoring goals. It's their all-around game in defending, winning balls to get the attack started and how they just keep going. I don't know if I've ever had players that can run forever like Hatch and (Vasconcelos.)"

While excelling at all aspects of the game, Hatch is at her best when capitalizing on scoring opportunities.

"It's not easy knowing when and how to take shots in soccer, but for Ashley it comes very naturally, and that's a special thing," Rockwood said. "She's been playing soccer for so long, and while you normally have to coach someone on when it's best to take a shot and when to pass, Ashley just knows it instinctively."

BYU is close to wrapping up non-conference play and looks forward to winning a fifth straight WCC championship. But the team doesn't want to rest there, hoping and believing it can advance farther than any Cougar soccer team has.

"With our experience, and how we're playing, we feel we can go all the way," Hatch said. "I have a lot of faith in my teammates, and how they work, and I truly believe that we can be the best."

Twitter: @BrandonCGurney