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Interview: Ashley Hatch

Ashley Hatch forward of Washington Spirit/ JWS

Ashley Hatch plays as a forward for the Washington Spirit of the NWSL. Selected by the North Carolina Courage with the second pick in the 2017 NWSL draft, Hatch was named the 2017 NWSL Rookie of the Year as she helped the Courage win that year’s NWSL Shield. Below, she spoke with Just Women’s Sports about what makes her a unique forward, why she thinks Washington’s owner is setting a new standard, and her own potential future with the USWNT.

First off, how has coronavirus impacted both your life and your training?

The virus has unfortunately prevented us from starting our pre-season and is preventing us from getting together to work out and practice. It has impacted my life just like it has everyone else’s life. It has forced me to stay home and get creative with how I spend my time and how I get my workouts done. I have been preparing all off-season for this season so I’m just looking at it like a little extension to my prep and using this time to focus on some things I want to get better at.

The Washington Spirit seems to have built out a really young core over the last few years, and you have a lot of high-ceiling rookies coming in. Can you speak to what it’s like to be a part of that? 

Like you said, we have a lot of incoming rookies and a lot of people who are transferring over from either other teams or are coming over from overseas. It’s kind of weird cause I feel like I’m still one of those young players, but I’m not. Like, this’ll be my fourth season in the NWSL. But it’s super fun and it’s exciting to have a lot of young players because they’re all so eager to learn and to play and compete. And I think that just adds to our culture as a team. And off the field, because we’re all in a similar age group, it’s easy for us to get along.

The team has been in a bit of a rebound the past couple years. What has that been like and what are your goals going into this season? 

It’s been quite the ride. I mean, this will be my third season now with the Spirit and this will be my first time having the same coaching staff for consecutive years. I mean you’re always getting used to new players, but getting used to a new coach and coaching staff and style of play is very challenging to do year after year. But we were successful last year compared to the year before, and so I think this year we’re really excited because we already have that foundation and those standards have been set.

You yourself have gotten better every year you’ve been in the league. What are your personal goals going into this season? 

That’s a good question. I mean, I don’t really think my goals have ever changed. As a forward, as I’m sure every forward would tell you, you want to be the leading goalscorer on your team. You want to be the leading goalscorer in the league. You want to be helping your team by scoring goals and contributing to wins. And obviously, making the national team is something that I think every US player is striving for.

What kind of opportunities have you had with the national team so far? 

I have two caps with them, and then I’ve been in a few camps, so I’m a camp-goer, I guess you could say, but it hasn’t been consistent. I think I’m doing well in the league and just continuing to push myself there I think will help my case for more opportunities. It’s something I can continue to work toward.

The front line for the national team right now is loaded, but most of those players are on the older end, relatively speaking. You’re only 24. There’s going to be opportunities. Do you ever think like, I could be in this next batch of forwards? 

Hmm. It’s in the back of my mind, definitely. But I don’t know. I try to just focus on what I’m doing here with the Spirit. Thinking that far into the future isn’t going to help me, whereas I think focusing on where I am right here, right now, will help me be prepared for whatever happens. Like you said, it feels like there might be an opportunity coming by, but in the meantime, I just want to stay focused so I can make sure that when any opportunity does come, I’m ready and I’ve put in a good case for myself.

As a forward, your game seems pretty unique, especially for the league. You’re taller and you’re strong, but you’re also very much a skill player. Do you also see that as a unique combination? My sense is the league tends to have forwards that play big, strong, fast and straight ahead. 

That’s a good observation, and I thank you for the compliment. Before I transitioned to playing forward, I was an attacking center mid in high school. And so I was pretty crafty and had some good ball skills, which I didn’t want to lose as a forward, where a lot of times it is straight run and gun or just being strong on the ball and having a god strike. And if you’re good at those things, you’re going to be a good forward. But I think playing center mid growing up, I was able to keep a little bit of that and integrate it into my game as a forward. Sometimes it is hard because coaches want me to be a traditional nine and post up player, but that wasn’t my style growing up, so it’s something I’ve had to learn. But I would rather try and learn that than have to try and learn how to be a crafty player at this point.

Looking back at your rookie year, what stands out to you? 

I think that my rookie season, I just learned so much about the whole professional world, how to be a professional athlete, how to take care of yourself, how to play the game, how to improve, how to deal with contracts and all these other things that we’re never a part of my life before. I feel like my rookie season, I was kind of just like a sponge. I really sucked it all in. And I learned a lot from the veterans on the team and the girls who have been doing it a while. I also came to understand the business side of it, because even though I had a good season and I really enjoyed my time, I knew they didn’t want me back at the end of the year. They had to do what was best for the club and that was to trade me. So I feel like I kind of got thrown into the world of professional soccer really fast.

But with each different team I’ve been a part of, and each different club that I’ve been able to play for, I’ve learned, you know, what it takes to successfully run a club, especially from the owner’s perspective. I mean, Steve [Baldwin], our owner now, has done tremendous things for our club. He’s made such a difference in just the year that he’s been our owner. It’s exciting for the future of not only our club but the NWSL because owners like Steve kind of set that standard.

What do you think Steve’s done that’s been especially beneficial? 

He’s always high energy, and he has high belief. There’s no wavering in that. He just goes out there and represents us, and he’ll literally talk to anyone about money and sponsorships. He does a really good job of getting things in the works and getting us better sponsorships. He’s not afraid of people saying no, but a lot of people have said yes. I think he has like, no joke, five meetings a day with potential sponsors and current sponsors. And not only is he working on our sponsorships, but he’s doing a lot for the league as a whole in terms of finding partners.

He makes you excited to be a part of this movement for the Spirit. His efforts show you just how much faith he has in us as players and as a program. We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard, because we know Steve is going out to vouch for us. He treats female athletes like the athletes they are, and we know he’s going to fight for us.

You live cross country from your husband for half of the year while you’re playing. How do you two handle that part of the professional athlete experience? 

It’s definitely hard, but we just make it work and it’s kind of like a normal part of our lives now. I think it helps that he’s super, super supportive and is one of my biggest fans. It makes me so happy when he’s like, Oh my gosh, I can’t wait for this season to start, I just want to watch you guys play again. He’s just so invested and really enjoys it. And I don’t think, honestly it would be possible for us to have this long distance relationship if he wasn’t that way. So it’s definitely hard, but being with someone who’s supportive and who you truly love makes it doable.