It wasn’t the first goal of the game or the game-winner. But you could just tell from the celebration there was something special about forward Ashley Hatch’s 67th-minute equalizer in the North Carolina Courage’s 2-0 victory over FC Kansas City on Saturday at Shalen Stadium in Cary, N.C.
Seven minutes after the Courage’s McCall Zerboni put her team up 1-0, Hatch took a pass from Lynn Williams and slotted it past FCKC’s charging keeper Nicole Barnhart from eight yards. Hatch, a rookie out of Brigham Young University, was making her first professional start after six appearances off the bench for North Carolina. It was the 22-year-old player’s first goal as a pro.
“It’s always a special moment when someone scores their first professional goal,” Courage captain Abby Erceg told Excelle Sports. “We appreciate her because she’s been working really hard in training, and she’s very eager to learn.”
We're tearing up a bit after this one. #Proud
Ashley Hatch's first professional goal
67' | NCvKC | June 3, 2017 pic.twitter.com/u5kvE3YgeI
— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) June 3, 2017
[More from Excelle Sports: North Carolina Courage sign Ashley Hatch and Darian Jenkins]
The play started 15 yards into the Carolina attacking half. Williams picked up a loose ball on the left flank, dribbled five yards and played a spectacular pass through three FCKC defenders onto the Hatch’s foot.
“Lynn had ball, and I looked up and made eye contact with her,” Hatch told Excelle Sports. “She gave me a beautiful ball, and I just had to finish it.”
And after Hatch finished it, she started the celebration by jumping into the arms of veteran Courage midfielder Sam Mewis.
“When she scored, I was so excited for her,” Mewis told Excelle Sports. “She’s been working hard the whole time she’s been here. Anytime a rookie comes in and doesn’t start right away, it’s hard for them. They have obviously started on every team they have ever been on. So it’s been a journey for her, and we are all rooting for her because she works so hard.”
Mewis was only the beginning of the post-Hatch goal party. ALmost immediately after the two embraced, the rest of the Courage players on field joined Mewis and Hatch, jumping up and creating the kind of celebration you typically see after a late-game, match-winning tally, not a goal that makes the score 2-0.
After the mob broke up, Hatch bolted to the Courage bench, where forward Kristen Hamilton was among the reserve players who appeared as excited as Hatch.
“She’s one of us,” Hamilton told Excelle Sports of the team’s reserve players. “She’s been on the bench with us throughout the season, and it was just really special to see her celebrate with us. She’s worked her butt off every day, but it’s really hard to get on the field when you are playing behind striker’s like Jess McDonald and Lynn Williams.”
Hatch says she also feels a special bond with her teammates on the bench.
“I have been on the bench for most games, and we’ve been cheering everyone on,” she said. “Every time one of us goes into a game, we say, ‘If you score, you’d better come over here.’ I had to make sure I did that.”
A few of us snuck up on Ms Hatch's interview. No regrets! pic.twitter.com/5pEru8sPyr
— NCCourageSection108 (@NC_Courage_108) June 4, 2017
[More from Excelle Sports: Why did the Courage lose again? Hint: It didn’t have to do with playing Jessica McDonald in back.]
On Friday, Hatch found out she would be starting in place of McDonald, whom coach Paul Riley decided to rest.
“I was excited, but I just tried to stay focused and get my mind prepared,” Hatch said. “I get really excited before games, but I try to prepare for every game the same, whether I’m starting or not.
“Everyone wants to be out there playing, but I know coach Riley knows what he’s doing,” she added. “Whatever minutes I get, I’m grateful for. When I’m able to get on the field, I just give it my all.”
Hatch’s goal now help the Courage, with a 6-3-0 record, remain on top of the rankings for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) as the league heads into a two-week international break. During the break, Hatch will play for the U.S. Under-23 women’s national team in the Nordic Cup, which takes place June 6–12 in Sweden. NWSL play resumes on June 17.
With the U-23s, Hatch wants to continue the progress she’s made so far in her first pro season.
“Each week, I get more comfortable,” Hatch said. “My [Courage] teammates are amazing. I’m just learning a lot on and off the field from them. At the Nordic Cup, I want to just get more practice, more reps, and more game experience.”
And maybe more celebrations.