As a junior at BYU in 2016, Ashley Hatch was invited to the U.S. National Women’s Soccer team training camp.
At the time, Hatch led college women’s soccer in scoring (15 goals) but was a little intimidated by the opportunity. In truth, Hatch wasn’t even sold on soccer becoming her career after she graduated.
She does, however, remember a moment during practice with the national team when she knew she belonged among the elite players.
“There was a scrimmage near the end of one day,” Hatch recalled. “Carli Lloyd was on my team and there was a ball that either of us could have gotten. I called her off and got the ball. After practice I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I just called off Carly Lloyd!’ It was a cool experience because I wasn’t worried who was on the field, I was just competing. That I was on the field with players I had watched growing up, that really stuck in my mind. That really fed into my confidence.”
Hatch has returned to Utah for the National Women’s Soccer League Challenge Cup, a month-long tournament which is being staged at the Real Salt Lake Academy facilities in Herriman. She is a member of the Washington Spirit, one of eight NWSL teams competing.
“It’s always fun to come back to Utah,” Hatch said. “It’s really my second home. It was weird talking to my teammates when we got off the plane at the Salt Lake Airport because I was telling them this is what I did every other week when I played at BYU. I miss the mountains and it’s fun to share everything with my teammates.”
Hatch was a dominant player at BYU, scoring 47 goals in her career, earning co-West Coast Conference Player of the Year in 2014 and getting her first US Women’s National Team cap in 2016 against Switzerland.
Hatch was selected No. 2 overall by the North Carolina Courage in the 2017 NWSL Draft and earned Rookie of the Year honors. After playing in the Australian W-League during the offseason, Hatch was traded to the Spirit in 2018, where she has been the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons.
“It’s been a wild adventure I’m so glad I decided to take,” Hatch said. “My senior year in college I wasn’t 100 percent positive I wanted to be a pro. The experience I had playing against professionals and the best players in the world with the national team gave me the confidence that I could do it.
“The coolest part of playing pro soccer is that every girl has a different story and path to where they are today. It’s great to learn about them how they ended up playing for that team and that badge. I’ve had my ups and downs as a player for the Spirit but that has made me into the person I am today. I’m excited to continue to play and to pursue it as long as I can.”
Hatch’s story took a pleasant turn last year, when she married Jeff Van Buren.
“My dad was my agent and Jeff took over for him,” Hatch said. “Jeff is in the Master’s program at BYU in accounting. Once the pandemic hit he flew out to DC to be with me and finished his classes online, so there was a silver lining. He usually only comes out for the summer.”
Each team in the Challenge Cup is guaranteed at least five games. The preliminary phase begins Saturday and runs through July 13. With the Orlando team withdrawing after a player tested positive for COVID-19, all eight teams will advance to the knockout round. The quarterfinals are July 17 and 18, the semifinals on July 22 and the final on July 26. The semifinals and finals will be played at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“We’re just excited to get on the field and play against an opponent,” Hatch said. “I think we have a really talented team and I’m excited to see what we can do in this tournament. The league has done a good job of getting everything ready to follow safety protocols. We’re wearing masks anytime we’re not playing or eating, so they are keeping us safe and doing all they can. After just one day here I can tell the hosts are thoughtful and taking good care of us. I think it will be a good tournament.”
The tournament opener (North Carolina Courage vs. Portland Thorns FC) will air on CBS at 10:30 a.m. MT on Saturday. The finals will also be on CBS. All other games will be available for streaming on the CBS All-Access subscription service. The games will also re-air on CBS Sports Network.