It’s not as if Ashley Hatch hasn’t made big plays, scored big goals and come through in the clutch numerous times already in her three years as a varsity starter on Highland’s girls soccer team.
This was different. When Ashley March made two diving saves of Hamilton penalty kicks, this Ashley, fittingly given her value to the Hawks, had the season sitting at her shoes.
Not only could Hatch’s penalty kick clinch Highland’s first state championship in school history, but the junior forward missed a penalty kick against Goodyear Millennium during the Hawks’ eventual-PK victory in the Div. I state tournament quarterfinals exactly one week prior.
After the celebration, she found out her freshman sister, Brianna, was going to be next in the PK pecking order had Ashley not converted.
Put it all together, and no other lifetime moment (sports or otherwise) yielded such clenched teeth and a churning stomach of anxiety.
“I’m pretty sure that was the top,” she said. “I didn’t think about it. I didn’t know I was the one (who could clinch the championship). I was so nervous I wasn’t even thinking about it. I remember missing before (against Millennium) so don’t do the same thing.”
She didn’t, and after a few years of oh-so-close, the Hawks won the Division I state championship.
Hatch’s speed, aggressiveness and skill have been on display in high school soccer since she was a freshman, but even with the BYU-commit’s bubbling potential, it was about deferring to the seniors of two and three years ago.
Not so anymore. Her school-record 33 goals and 20 assists — many of which went to Bri — she’s now the tutor.
“It comes with being in high school,” she said. “As freshman you look up to the older ones. I know I definitely looked up to the seniors and I think the younger girls do the same. I lead by example and me doing my best will be passed along.”
They often stayed after practice for more practice, and while Ashley took some satisfaction when she passed Bri for the team-lead in scoring earlier this season, they have to live together, go to school and play soccer together for one more year.
Ashley’s watched the state championship video “over and over again and still have that same feeling.”
Though “still on Cloud 9,” from soccer, she’s running the 100 hurdles, 400 dash and 4x400 relay for the track team while playing club soccer. A core group of these Hawks — the Hatch sisters, March, Jaden DeGracie, Bre McCarter and Brena Jarvis — will be back next season to defend this championship.
“We knew if we wanted to win a state championship, we all had to do it together,” Hawks coach John Berzins said. “If it’s sacrificing yourself a bit than that’s what we needed to do. That was our sell all year and it worked out.”
The same could be said for Hatch’s second chance with sudden-death. Having worked out nicely in their favor twice during the same state tournament, surely the Hatch family is a huge fan of penalty kicks?
“I’d rather win during the game,” she said. “I don’t think penalty kicks are fun. I like to watch them but I don’t like to be in them.”
Memorable moments from the 2011-2012 season
Highland hoists its first: After knocking on the door nearly every February for the past five years, Highland’s girls busted down the proverbial barrier and reached the school’s first girls soccer title match. Awaiting the Hawks was defending-champion Hamilton under new coach Mark Eggleston. A thriller unfolded at Campo Verde High School, as the high-scoring Hawks and defensive-minded Huskies negated one another most of the afternoon. Regulation, two overtimes and two “golden goal” sudden-death overtimes decided nothing. Finally it went to a shootout, and Hawks goalie Ashley March made two diving saves during the PKs, and all-state captain Ashley Hatch’s penalty-kick goal secured the Hawks first championship.
Realignment spurs reaction: The switch from seven divisions to four (Div. I, II and III in winter, Div. IV played in fall) ramped up competition across the board, and with the top 16 in each new division reaching the state tournaments, many schools felt their team’s resumes were worthy, but were left out of the postseason. Those that did get in found the road to a title more difficult than years past. Another push could be attempted this offseason by the soccer competition committee to make soccer a 24-team tournament with the top eight teams (based on power points) earning a first-round bye, similar to basketball, baseball and softball.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.