‘My girls deserve every good thing, no matter what happens’
MANTI—It was a clear Saturday afternoon in May, and Manti head softball coach Susan Hatch stood out on the side of the softball diamond as the 3A softball state championship, and the last game of her coaching career, unfolded.
Was there any pressure on Hatch to go out on top? Did the 17-year coach have any worries about ending her career in second place for the third year in a row? Did the seven seniors on the team feel anxious, not only about competing for the school’s first-ever 3A title, but also to give their beloved coach the best sendoff possible?
For Hatch, none of that bothered her. She watched her girls take the field and knew they deserved every good thing no matter what happened.
As for the players, they also had no fear or pressure. Senior Tiffany Hermansen pitched perhaps her best game of the season. Base runners stole bases with ease and defenders were helpless. Five innings spelled out a 13-0 blowout for a championship.
“I knew before we ever started playing that game that we’re gonna win,” Hatch said.
The sixth championship of Hatch’s career was emblematic of what the coach brought to Manti, and to the hundreds of young women that went through the program. Hatch taught a whole lot more than just winning; she taught about commitment, belief and self-worth.
The Lady Templars have been the cream of the crop in Utah softball for as long as Hatch has been coaching the program. She inherited the program in 2007 after being an assistant coach the year before. Manti already had the look of being dynastic in the sport, having won the last two state titles, five of them since 1992. Under Hatch, they ran the streak to three in a row by taking the championship in 2007, then won again in 2009.
By comparison, Manti’s six-year streak of being somewhere below first place prior to last spring felt like an eternity. Tiffany’s strong performance that day gave her a badge of honor that had eluded her family since her older sister, Tyra, got into the program in 2017, the year after the team’s last state title.
Tiffany, a senior, was effervescent in talking with reporters after her final game, even when she brought up the team’s typical(!) 5 a.m. workout time, a talking point that openly surprised even the most seasoned reporters. One of them responded, “What are you doing at 5 a.m?!”
“It’s always been something that I felt helped give my girls an edge in the program,” Hatch said. “It created a mental toughness that I think some teams lack when the going gets tough. They learn how to bear down and work through the hard.”
Hatch did not pioneer the softball weight training program at Manti, but no doubt the players who went through it benefitted from the influence of someone so keen on fitness that she posts personal workout videos and health tips on her Facebook page almost daily. It wasn’t even unheard of for Hatch to do the lifting alongside her girls some mornings.
“You have to be an example of what you expect from other people,” Hatch said. “As a coach, if I’m asking my girls to work in the weight room, or to give 110 percent, or to do certain things, that trust in themselves stems from them seeing that I’m doing it too.”
There’s something to be said about looking your opponent in the eye and thinking, “I was lifting while you were sleeping,” Hatch agrees.
Even Manti’s opponents knew it. Assistant coach Beckie Hermansen, Tyra and Tiffany’s mother, said her daughters were (or currently are, in Tiffany’s case) often asked during summer tournaments where they played. When “Manti” is their answer, the response usually was, “Oh, you must be really good.”
Like many who experience great success in their lives, Hatch’s 343 career wins didn’t come without the learning experience she and her players gained from 137 combined losses.
For the six times the Lady Templars planted their flag at the summit of the proverbial mountain, there were nine other seasons that ended with a loss, including two straight years (2018, 2019) losing the title game to the same opponent, Grantsville.
That history loomed large when Manti prepared to face the Cowgirls in the quarterfinals last spring. In what felt like a mock championship game, Hatch had a champion’s lesson to teach.
“It doesn’t matter if they win or lose,” Hatch said. “They can have a good game or a horrible game, but it doesn’t change their worth. So much of the world today is spent on the idea that our outcomes determine our worth. I wanted the girls to understand that it doesn’t matter. You are worthy, you are loved and you are valued.”
Softball, as Hatch said, is a sport built upon embracing failure; a sport where getting on base three times in 10 attempts is pretty darn good. “Failing is going to get you closer to your goal,” Hatch said, “and even though you failed, we still love you, and you’re still the greatest person.”
After winning three titles in five years in 2A between 2012 and 2016, enrollment growth at Manti High led to a bump up to the 3A classification starting with the 2018 season. It proved to be a challenge. The Lady Templars began their season 0-5.
Nevertheless, despite a rare second-place finish in region standings, Hatch guided the team to the quarterfinals where they ran into eventual champion and future Templar bane— Grantsville.
While Manti learned the ropes of 3A competition, Grantsville won four straight championships, which is what made Hatch’s emphasis on self-worth so important the day of that 2022 quarterfinal game.
At the end of the 2021 season, having weathered a championship loss, a season cancelled by a pandemic, then another championship loss, Hatch contemplated retirement. According to Beckie Hermansen, Tiffany made it very clear that she wanted one more year with her, and to get her beloved coach a 3A state championship. Because of her, and the six other seniors in which she had invested so much love and dedication, Hatch went for one last season.
In March of 2022, Manti sported an 0-7 record.
In the face of a panicked ros- ter, Hatch’s 15 years at the head of the program and commitment to building belief in these young women was more crucial than ever.
Trusting in Hatch, the players bore down, just like they do at 5 a.m. on weekday mornings. That trust, that courage, took them back to the championship, only this time, there was no fear.
“You can go back and watch that game,” Beckie Hermansen said. “That state game was a whole bunch of girls who learned to believe in themselves, and learned to believe in each other, and were so fundamentally sound that when they felt the stress and the pressure of that situation, they went back to what they knew. It had been repeated and repeated.”
Hatch is retiring both from coaching and teaching English at Manti. She says she’s looking forward to being a retired grandma and an “empty-nester” with her husband, Dean.
Her husband and family gave a lot to help her accomplish her goals at Manti, and now she looks forward to catching up.
“It hasn’t been easy at times,” Dean said. “We never just had a normal family vacation; it was just going somewhere for softball.”