Ontario's Hattie Yugovich dribbles past Lexngton's Emily Thomas.
Ontario's Hattie Yugovich dribbles past Lexington's Emily Thomas during the first half of a match at Ontario. Credit: Curt Conrad, staff reporter

Richland Source will select one student athlete to be recognized as the Park National Bank Athlete of the Month during the 2023-24 school year. Nominations for Athlete of the Month are accepted from Athletic Directors and Coaches, but are ultimately chosen by Richland Source and are based on the student’s exceptional athletic performance, effective teamwork and achievement in their communities. Park National Bank is proud to support this initiative and is giving the athletic department of each school $1,000 in honor of each athlete chosen.

ONTARIO — Hattie Yugovich doesn’t mind the comparison, even if it’s slightly premature.

The way Yugovich sees it, being mentioned in the same breath as former Madison great Taylor Huff is both an honor and a source of motivation.

Ontario’s high-scoring sophomore midfielder, Yugovich already has established herself as one of the premier players in a region rich in girls soccer talent.

What’s more, her early high school career trajectory has mirrored that of Huff, a member of the United States U-23 youth national team currently starring for Florida State.

“I look up to her a lot,” Yugovich, Richland County’s Park National Bank Athlete of the Month for August, said of Huff. “Her training habits and what she does on and off the field and her mentality are all things I admire about her.

“I went to one of her club games and she did this move and I was like, ‘Wow, that girl is insane.’ She was just so good. I still go back and watch some of her game and, yeah, she is the real deal.”

Just as Huff did in the fall of 2017, Yugovich took the area soccer scene by storm as a freshman. She scored 38 goals and added 25 assists last fall, helping the Warriors reach the district championship match and earning a spot on the Ohio Scholastic Soccer Coaches Association All-Ohio first team in Division II. 

By comparison, Huff scored 34 goals and had 21 assists as a freshman en route to the first of her four All-Ohio first-team nods.

“I went into my freshman year just hoping to make the varsity team. I thought it would be such an incredible honor,” Yugovich said. “I remember being so nervous for my first game.

“I was playing against girls who were three or four years older than me. It was a lot.”

Yugovich picked up this fall where she left off in 2022. She has 11 goals and four assists for the Warriors (6-0-1), who are ranked seventh in Division II in this week’s OSSCA state poll.

One of Ontario’s early victories came against county rival Lexington. Yugovich scored both goals in the 2-1 win, including a highlight-reel, 40-yard free kick reminiscent of Huff’s 50-yarder against Rocky River in the 2020 state semifinals.

“It would be unfair to compare anyone to Taylor Huff,” longtime Ontario coach Larry Atkinson said at the time, “but Hattie has the ability to do some of the things that Taylor did when she was in high school.” 

Veteran Lexington coach Buck Morton agreed.

“The Yugovich girl is really good,” he said. “I mean, she’s really good.”

Ontario’s impressive early-season résumé includes a resounding 3-0 win over Charleston (W.Va.) Catholic in the prestigious River View Labor Day Showcase. Charleston Catholic is West Virginia’s defending AA-A state champion.

“It’s still early in the season, but we’re in a good place. We’re really connected,” Yugovich said. “The vibes are really good right now.

“There’s still a lot of things we need to get better at, but I think we’re in a good place right now.”

The Warriors, who knocked off Clear Fork earlier this week in a critical Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference match, are searching for their first district title since 2016. Ontario has fallen in the district final each of the past six seasons, including last year’s 2-1 loss to Lexington.

“We just keep replaying that game in our minds and thinking what could we have done better and what can we work on now in practice,” Yugovich said. “(Winning a district title) is the big goal right now.”

The oldest of Heidi and Jay Yugovich’s three children, 15-year-old Hattie hopes to play soccer at the collegiate level. She plays club soccer for the same high-level organization, Medina-based Internationals SC, that Huff played for earlier in her career.

“You just have to be super athletic and super fast,” Yugovich said of playing college soccer. “Another big thing is your habits. ‘What are you doing every morning? Are you a responsible person and can you get the job done?’ ”

By all accounts, Yugovich’s on- and off-field habits check all the boxes. She is an honor-roll student and is involved in Key Club, an international service organization for high school students, and Ontario’s executive leadership program.

“Hattie hits the mark as an Ontario athlete,” Ontario athletic director Jeff Fisher said. “She is a team-first soccer player that excels in fostering positive relationships. With her approach, the tide rises.

“Hat’s off to her for nurturing the respect of her peers and media alike.”