Former BYU soccer star Ashley Hatch likes to think she was there in spirit last week when Brigham Young University held graduation ceremonies for thousands of students and more than 100 current and former student-athletes who had earned degrees within the past six months, including herself.

Her absence was because of the Spirit, she said.

That would be the Washington Spirit, which opened defense of its National Women’s Soccer League title on Sunday with a 2-1 win over Seattle’s OL Reign.

Naturally, Hatch, who lives a charmed life as the NWSL’s Gold Boot winner in 2021 for being the top goal scorer in the league, notched the game-winning goal, breaking a 1-1 tie midway through the second half with a header.

She’s also a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team, and drew worldwide attention last November when she scored a goal just 24 seconds after kickoff against Australia in an international friendly match. It was the third-fastest goal in USWNT history.

United States’ Ashley Hatch celebrates after scoring her team’s first goal during the international soccer match between the United States and Australia at Stadium Australia in Sydney, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. | Mark Baker, Associated Press

Hatch, who is from Gilbert, Arizona, and starred for BYU from 2013-16 as arguably the greatest player in the history of coach Jennifer Rockwood’s program, is as proud of getting her degree from BYU as she was for scoring those remarkable goals, she told the Deseret News recently.

“It feels great. It was quite an accomplishment. It took me a little bit longer than most, but once I finished my last final, I was super excited, and a little bit relieved,” she said.

Hatch was on track to graduate in the spring or summer of 2017, but shortly after her record-setting career at BYU she was picked second overall by the North Carolina Courage in the NWSL college draft in January 2017 and professional soccer obviously became her No. 1 priority.

“It was important to me for many reasons. I mean, being able to play soccer at BYU and to go to such an amazing school was great for me. I wanted to finish what I started, finish what I went there to do, ultimately.” — Former BYU and current professional soccer star Ashley Hatch

But she chipped away, taking online classes here and there while becoming one of the premier players in the NWSL, getting traded from the Courage to the Spirit, marrying BYU alum Jeff Van Buren in 2019 and enduring the COVID-19 pandemic like everyone else.

She actually completed her last final exam last December for a play and therapy class in her family studies major and got her diploma then, but had to wait until April for it to become official.

“It was important to me for many reasons,” Hatch said of graduating with the class of 2022. “I mean, being able to play soccer at BYU and to go to such an amazing school was great for me. I wanted to finish what I started, finish what I went there to do, ultimately.”

Promising to return

Hatch said when she was named an NSCAA All-American as a senior forward for the Cougars in 2016 that she promised herself she would graduate some day. Now it is another feather in her cap, right up there with all those other honors.

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“And also, I really enjoyed what I was learning,” she said. “I know that my soccer career is not going to last forever, and it would be important for me to be able to have my degree and use that when my soccer career is over, for whatever is next.”

Hatch earned her coaching license while at BYU and became a volunteer assistant coach at Utah Valley University under Chris Lemay and helped coach her sister, Brianna, who had transferred to UVU after beginning her career at BYU.

“She graduated before me, which is kinda funny,” Hatch said. “I was like, ‘Congrats. Now I need to catch up.’”

Brianna Hatch is now a club and high school soccer coach in Arizona, a profession that Ashley might pursue when her playing days come to an end.

“I feel like my degree (from BYU’s School of Family Life) gave me a lot of insight into that world that I am hoping to dive into once I am done here,” she said. “Working with kids and learning about all the child development issues from all those classes really also intrigued me. Coaching is definitely an option and something I am interested in.”

Pursuing a pro career

Her husband graduated last April with a master’s degree in accounting from BYU and is currently a “part-time stay-at-home soccer dad” who has done some accounting work for the Spirit. 

“So he is kind of a jack of all trades,” Hatch said.

As for her impressive success in the pro ranks and with the national team, Hatch said BYU’s outstanding coaching staff, headed by Rockwood, prepared her well.

“I hoped for it, but I really had no idea what was in store,” she said. “I told myself once I left BYU and went into the draft that I was just going to take it one year at a time. I have been doing that, and I am enjoying it.

“It is going pretty well. So I am just going to keep taking it one year at a time like I did when I first started.”

Asked for her favorite moment since leaving BYU, she referred to the Spirit winning its first-ever championship last year and that quick goal in Australia.

Washington Spirit forward Ashley Hatch, left, and Orlando Pride midfielder Angharad James compete for a ball during an NWSL Challenge Cup soccer match, Saturday, March 19, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. | Phelan M. Ebenhack, Associated Press

“Those are pretty cool memories,” she said.

She called representing Team USA “a dream come true” and something she has worked for since her club soccer days in the Phoenix area.

“It is the culmination of a lot of hard work, all coming together,” she said. “I love it. It is just a huge honor every time I get to step on the field with a USA jersey on.”

Back to BYU, now and forever

Hatch said she’s also honored to represent BYU, even now. Getting a degree from the school she loves is just icing on the cake.

“BYU definitely gave me the boost that I needed as a soccer player, and as a person,” she said. “I developed so much over my four years there, and so I definitely enjoy giving BYU the credit it deserves when it comes to helping me throughout my career.”

She also enjoys talking to teammates about BYU, and what makes it peculiar to them.

“They ask me what we do for fun, because they obviously think you can’t have a party without alcohol,” she said, chuckling. “I tell them that you can actually have a really fun party and remember what went on. No, I am just kidding.”

Questions about BYU’s honor code and its “dating world” are also common, she said.

A year ago, Hatch and her husband were asked to be a part of the sports and cultural committee for the rededication of the Washington D.C. Temple. She took a half-dozen teammates and one staff member on a tour of the temple a week or so before their season began.

“I just got asked to invite all the people in my sphere of influence in the sports world for a private tour,” she said. “I just sent out a few emails and reminders as it got closer, and invited anyone and everyone who wanted to come. We had a good turnout, and it was really cool to be able to share that with my teammates.”

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Other high-profile BYU graduates

Hatch wasn’t the only successful professional athlete from a different era to receive a diploma from BYU in late April. Super Bowl-winning tight end Dennis Pitta, whose final season at BYU was in 2009, also graduated. Pitta retired from playing seven seasons in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens in 2016 due to a hip injury.

Pitta got his degree in business management.

According to a BYU news release, the 108 student-athletes receiving degrees this year included majors in accounting, bioinformatics, economics, exercise and wellness, experience design, microbiology, psychology and mechanical engineering, “to name a few.”

The student-athletes had graduation dates ranging from December 2021 to August 2022.

“Each graduating class faces challenges, opposition and setbacks through the course of the student-athlete experience,” said Trevor Wilson, director of the BYU Student-Athlete Life and Learning Center. “With that said, this class may be one of the most unique classes I have observed in my 11 years at BYU. This graduating class has achieved unprecedented academic and athletic success the past few years.”

Wilson said the group overcame issues due to the pandemic and persevered in some unusual circumstances.

“When I think on the challenges presented from the COVID-19 virus, challenges with remote learning, uncertainty regarding competitions and even the overall health of everyone, it amazes me that these student-athletes produced historic outcomes in the classroom, in the arenas and on the fields,” Wilson said. “They have achieved a level of success that Cougar Nation can be proud of.”


BYU student-athlete graduates

Here is a sport-by-sport look at the 108 student-athletes who graduated, and their majors (if available):

Baseball

Bryan Call, exercise and wellness.

Ayden Callahan, exercise and wellness.

Josh Cowden, exercise and wellness.

Hayden Leatham, exercise and wellness.

Mitch McIntyre, construction and facilities management.

Jacob Rogers, public health.

Drew Zimmerman, exercise and wellness.

Men’s basketball

Alex Barcello, exercise and wellness.

Gavin Baxter, geography.

Gideon George, geography.

Richard Harward, psychology.

Women’s basketball

Maria Albiero, exercise science.

Kayla Belles Lee, family life.

Signe Glantz, psychology.

Tegan Graham, mass communications.

Kaylee Smiler, human resource management.

Football

Brayden Cosper, communications.

Keenan Ellis, sociology.

Lorenzo Fauatea, sociology.

JT Gentry, finance.

Drew Jensen, geography.

Lopini Katoa, communications.

Harris LaChance, history.

Isaiah Herron, history.

Aleva Hifo, exercise and wellness.

D’Angelo Mandell, family life.

Earl Tuioti Mariner, exercise and wellness.

Malik Moore, family life.

Jason Money, exercise and wellness.

Keenan Pili, exercise science.

Dennis Pitta, business management.

Mitchell Price, communications.

Morgan Pyper, political science.

Rhett Reilly, construction and facilities management.

Baylor Romney, global supply chain management.

Keanu Saleapaga, family life.

Handsome Tanielu, English.

Pepe Tanuvasa, finance.

Alden Tofa, exercise and wellness.

Hank Tuipulotu, strategic management.

Shamon Willis, communications.

Gymnastics

Shannon Evans, exercise and wellness.

Helody Cyrenne, exercise and wellness.

Rachel Bain Heaton, experience design and management.

Lexi Griffith, exercise and wellness.

Sadie Miner Van Tassell, family life.

Haley Pitou, exercise science.

Adeline Rieder, exercise and wellness.

Brittney Vitkauskas, exercise and wellness.

Soccer

Ashton Johnson, communications.

Savanna Empey, exercise and wellness.

Ashley Hatch, family studies.

Grace Johnson, exercise and wellness.

Makaylie Moore, exercise and wellness.

Kendell Petersen, exercise and wellness.

Cassidy Smith, exercise and wellness.

Softball

Marissa Chavez, health science.

Martha Epenesa, family life.

Bridget Fleener, exercise and wellness.

Autumn Moffat-Korth, physical education teaching/coaching K-12.

Hannah Jo Petersen Mills, family life.

Taylei Williams, exercise and wellness

Men’s swim and dive

Ryan Evans, exercise and wellness.

Ethan Kramer, economics.

Kimble Mahler, microbiology.

Brayden Murphy, accounting.

Connor Stirling, business management.

Women’s swim and dive

Anna Despain, exercise and wellness.

Katie Smith, computer science.

Katie Quezada, biology.

Allison Warnick, master’s in accounting.

Madeline Zarchin, political science.

Women’s tennis

Anastasia Abramyan, communications.

Men’s tennis

Matheus Ferreira Leite, civil engineering.

Ben Gajardo, finance.

Women’s track

Anna Camp Bennett, family studies.

Sable El-Bakri, exercise and wellness.

Kate Hunter, exercise science.

Sophie Lasswell, sociology.

Sara Musselman, family studies.

Isabel Neal, exercise science.

Ashton Riner, communication disorders.

Men’s track

Elijah Armstrong, communications studies.

AJ Beynon, exercise science.

Zac Jacklin, computer science.

Conner Kennedy, marketing.

Zach McWhorter, entrepreneurial management.

Conner Mantz, mechanical engineering.

Cortez Ruiz, Russian.

Andrew Stuart, nutritional science.

Adam Wood, exercise science.

Colten Yardley, manufacturing engineering technology.

Women’s volleyball

Taylen Ballard Nixon, family studies.

Kennedy Eschenberg, elementary education.

Tayler Hifo, political science.

Whitney Larenas, psychology.

Men’s volleyball

Zach Eschenberg, neuroscience.

Branden Oberender, information systems.

Cougarettes

Rachel Parkinson Hansen, human development.

Caroline Tarbet, psychology.

Naevi Staheli Tingey, communications.

Cheer

David Knight.

Lacey Hill.

Justice Read.

Julianna Short.

Brianna Vitkauskas.

Dunk team

Caroline Allen, exercise and wellness.

James Wengler, bioinformatics.