BYU head soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood opened up about the highs and lows of coaching on a recent podcast appearance.

Rockwood appeared on her former player Ashley Hatch’s podcast, “Ditto,” in an episode that was released Sunday. She talked about her memories of Hatch and the struggles of recruiting at BYU.

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Rockwood has a unique hurdle when it comes to college recruiting: players electing to serve church missions.

When The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors the university, lowered the age that young women could serve missions from age 21 to 19, Rockwood didn’t think her program would be affected because “the girls have worked their whole life to get to the point to be here at BYU” and to represent everything BYU stands for.

She was wrong.

“That very same year when that age changed, I had four or five girls come in and tell me they were leaving on a mission. You can only imagine how that impacts recruiting as well, especially if we’re recruiting two years out in advance. You can’t really prepare for it, so to speak,” she said.

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Female members of the church are not required to serve a mission but can choose to do so for 18 months if they so desire. That fluidity can make recruiting harder, Rockwood said, because a player may not have been planning to serve when talking to Rockwood during their recruitment and even after getting to BYU.

“I think with girls it’s a very personal decision that could come anytime,” she said. “All of a sudden they’re like, ‘Jen, I think I’m supposed to go on a mission.’ It happens every season, to be honest with you. It’s been hard for our staff to try and manage that, but we also just have to believe that things will work out.”

While it can make recruiting and scholarship planning more difficult, it pays off in the young women who end up suiting up for BYU, according to Rockwood.

“I told my admin I have to stop recruiting such outstanding young women because they want to go and serve a mission. They want it all. They won’t just be a soccer player, they’ll be a missionary. They want to have it all. Most of them have been able to do that. It just has worked out. On some of our best teams — even last year and even in 2021 — we had several returned missionaries, so that brings a sense of maturity I think to the team.”

Jen Rockwood on watching Ashley Hatch’s success

Rockwood has known Hatch since she was a little girl attending BYU soccer camps and has enjoyed following Hatch’s success post-BYU as she has played for the U.S. women’s national team and the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage and Washington Spirit.

“I remember Ashley out on the field at Rio Tinto, and she got her first (national) team cap, and I was running around like a proud parent, probably like her parents, you know, taking pictures,” she said.

At the end of the episode, Rockwood thanked Hatch for the mark she has left on BYU and for inspiring young girls.

“I remember you when you were a little camper, 12 years old, and then when you decided to come to BYU and all the success you had for us and how you represented us,” she said. “People, I think, because of your success kind of knew a little bit about BYU and BYU soccer, so thanks for the legacy that you left our program and the inspiration that you give to so many young players. I think that’s so valuable and so important, and girls look up to you.”

BYU's Ashley Hatch tries to avoid a tackle during a second-round NCAA Women's College Cup tournament game Nov. 19, 2015 at Stanford. BYU lost 2-1. | BYU Photo