From the time that she was in third grade until the time that she played her final game as a member of the Dove Creek High School girls basketball team earlier this year, Grace Hatfield stood out as one of the finest players on the court.
Now, after scoring 1,450 points and winning 61 games over the course of a storied prep career, the Lady Bulldogs shooting guard is set to play at Hastings College in Hastings, Nebraska, after signing a National Letter of Intent on April 14.
“Hastings is a great school, they’ve been reaching out for at least two years now, and I just felt in my heart that (Hastings) was the place that I was supposed to go,” Hatfield said. “They play the same way that we play here (in Dove Creek). They play fast, and the coach is amazing.”
Upon joining the Hastings team in August, Hatfield will be immersed in excellence as the National Intercollegiate Athletics Association school has been one of the most successful programs in the Great Plains Athletic Conference.
Coached by former University of Nebraska star shooting guard Jina Douglas, Hastings finished the 2019-20 season with a 30-3 record overall and rose as high as No. 3 in the NAIA rankings before the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely canceled the season.
While Hatfield was recruited by other schools, including Concordia University in Nebraska, she was sold on the Hastings program after Douglas reached out to her by telephone and pitched an opportunity to compete alongside standout teammates at a solid academic institution.
“I’m excited to play with teammates with the same level and ability,” said Hatfield, when asked what aspect of the opportunity to compete in college excites her most. “It will be fun to play with people that know what they are doing. I’m excited to meet new teammates, a new coach, and experience a new environment.”
Although Hatfield is looking forward to the opportunity to don a new jersey, she was quick to point out that she will miss pulling on the white and gold Dove Creek jersey in which she became a prep star and a local legend.
After averaging 11.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 steals per game during a solid freshman season, Hatfield emerged as one of the top scorers in the state during a sophomore season that saw her average 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.9 steals per game.
During her junior season, Hatfield continued to put the ball in the basket and averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 steals per game despite facing consistent double teams and being the focal point of every opponent’s defensive scheme.
In her final season of high school basketball, Hatfield averaged 20.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5.3 steals per game during an abbreviated season that saw Dove Creek finish with a 14-1 record overall and advance to the Class 1A state quarterfinals.
“I’m going to remember my team and my coaches,” Hatfield said. “My coaches were outstanding. My dad (Jonce Hatfield) was my coach and my role model, and he helped me through everything. My teammates were amazing, and the school and the community was amazing as well. I love my town. I’m sad to leave, but I need to go.”
“I coached Grace when she was in 3rd or 4th grade and I knew then that she was going to be different,” echoed Jonce Hatfield. “Scoring the ball has always been easy for her. She has put in the work and put in the time and stayed on the right path.”
While Hatfield became known best for her excellence on the basketball court, her stellar academic record and her leadership away from the floor turned heads in the community and aided her in becoming a well-known community figure.
After thanking her teachers and noting that Dove Creek Principal Shane Baughman has helped her every step of the way, Hatfield said that she plans to pursue a degree in psychology in hopes of making a difference in people’s lives.
“(Grace) is kind-hearted, and she embraces everyone that is around her,” Dove Creek head coach Julie Kibel said. “She works super-hard. She has her own special unique qualities, and she shined.”
Between now and the time that she arrives at Hastings College in fall, Hatfield plans to finish out the high school volleyball season in style and help lead the Lady Bulldogs to the Class 1A State Tournament.
She will then spend the summer continuing to hone her shooting touch and her all-around game before joining a Hastings program that appears primed to be one of the top NAIA programs in the country.
Asked what advice she would give to young people in the community who one day want to stand in her shoes, Hatfield noted the importance of hard work.
“I hope that I am a role model to (young people in our community) and I would tell them to work for your dreams, work hard, and never give up,” she said.