NCAA Super Regionals: Upstart Utes has its eye on the College World Series

A day after the Utah softball team accomplished a remarkable feat on Sunday by defeating Mississippi to earn the chance to host an NCAA super regional for the first time in school history, the Coach Amy Hogue fixed the mailbox, mowed her lawn, grilled salmon on the BBQ for her kids and watched “Ted Lasso.”

“It was fun. It made me a little jealous of all the people I had to coach and play with who were there just to have fun and I was there to work. It’s fascinating to see how crazy things have gotten with our community, fans and alumni trying to get seats.—Amy Hogue, Utah Coach

“I actually took part of the day off,” she said. “I did things with ordinary people.”

The reason she had time off on Monday is because the Utes, who are on a nine-game winning streak, are playing at home at Dumke Stadium in the Super Regionals this weekend.

Pac-12 Tournament champion and No. 15 seed Utah will face Mountain West Conference Tournament champion San Diego State beginning Friday (8 p.m. MDT, ESPNU) in a best-of-three series for be eligible to qualify for the Women’s College World Series.

“It’s exciting to host two at a time, not only because of our fans, but also because our team is resting while other teams are traveling,” Hogue said. “We are preparing our team for the environment that we have never had at Dumke Stadium. If we can get all 2,500 people to come back and do what they did last weekend, I promise they will “will have a Utah team that’s ready and can’t wait. The environment will be nothing like we’ve ever seen. I guarantee it.”

“I heard everything”

Last weekend, the Utes beat Southern Illinois and Ole Miss twice, in front of 2,506 fans at a noisy Dumke Stadium.

Typically, Hogue is oblivious to crowd noise during any given game. But things were different last weekend.

“First of all, it was crazy,” she explained. “The fans were so into it and so loud.”

Additionally, when games are televised on ESPN, there are longer breaks between innings due to commercials. That means more time to wait – and to figure out what’s going on in the stands.

“I’ve been known to not notice anything in the crowd. I have this supernatural ability to hear nothing, to see nothing,” she said. “I have a lot of things I think about in a game. Somebody has to tell me what was going on in the crowd. I can’t hear anything. But this weekend I heard everything.

Between innings, she heard the chants of “Let’s Go Utah!” She noticed that the fans were making waves.

Among those who attended these games were his former Utah teammates and former Utah coaches.

“It was fun. It made me a little jealous of all the people I had to coach and play with who were there just to enjoy and I was there to work,” Hogue said. It’s fascinating how crazy things have gotten with our community, fans and alumni trying to get seats.

“It was exciting. I’ve been in Utah softball long enough to have teammates that fly. I have former coaches that I could see at the game. I coached this team for 16 years. All the people who have played for me are showing up in droves.

After winning the regional championship, Hogue was on the receiving end of a Gatorade dump — not from his players, but from his former teammates.

“I thought I was pretty safe,” she said. “I had my eye on my team and of course my teammates came in with the blue Gatorade. I always try to clean my white boots.

The support was strong and impactful.

“Since the Pac-12 Tournament Championship, the number of people who have come on board to watch and hang out has been insane,” Hogue said. “I see pictures and people send me videos of everything that happened because they knew I missed it. They are all changing their plans and flights right now. They had plans out of town for this weekend, they were like, ‘We’re staying home now.’

“Revenge Tour”

In addition to the Utes playing now, they struggled the last two weeks of April when they lost five of six games. Utah lost two of three games at No. 9 Washington and was swept at home to No. 2 UCLA.

But the Utes have largely rebounded from those disappointments.

“Looking back, that was a turning point for us,” Hogue said. “It was a growth phase of what we were doing. That is, how you improve even if you lose; the importance of growing no matter what. You train harder. This gives you a good chance to grow and improve as you lose. You lost that one-on-one battle – how are you going to win it next time?

“It’s been a phenomenal thing for our team because they’ve taken the necessary steps to make sure they don’t get beaten up in the same way again. The training they went through and the willingness to look at what that they failed and making sure it didn’t happen again is what finally happened. They learned from all those failures and they grew. And they didn’t let it happen to them again.

Utah went on what Hogue called a “revenge tour” in the Pac-12 tournament, where it played the three teams it lost the series to during the regular season — California, Washington and UCLA — and won. beat all three.

At the Pac-12 Tournament Championship in Tucson, Arizona, the Utes ended the Bruins’ 25-game winning streak.

“It’s not rocket science. That’s literally all it was. You beat me that way, we’re going to figure out how you beat me and not let it happen again,” she said. “We beat Washington when it counted in the tournament and we beat UCLA when it counted in the tournament. We’re on a nine-game winning streak.

Hogue said she wasn’t too shocked when the Bruins failed to qualify for NCAA Regionals last week despite playing at home, where they fell to Liberty and Grand Canyon.

“Our game has grown so much. It’s hard to look past anyone,” she said. “As long as you’re on the same diamond, I’ll never be surprised when someone gets beat up. It’s so hard to win games against anyone.

Make a splash — again

On Monday, Utah posted a video to social media of players — dressed in full uniforms — and coaches jumping into the campus pool.

It’s a tradition that goes back about 30 years.

During Hogue’s first season at Utah in 1991, the Utes eliminated Texas A&M in College Station, Texas to qualify for the College World Series. After the game, the team bus parked at the side of the hotel where Utah was staying.

“Our team got off the bus and went straight to the pool. The bus driver got on, our athletic director, Fern Gardner, was in the pool. Everybody got in the pool,” Hogue said. “It was such an iconic moment. After that, it became a thing for our team. You win championships and you enter the pool.

The Utes did it again when they returned to the College World Series in Hogue’s 1994 senior season.

“It became a thing,” she said. “So much so that I brought it with me when I coached at Salt Lake Community College.”

And sometimes the party didn’t take place in a swimming pool. While coaching the SLCC, Hogue’s team won the conference title at North Idaho College.

“I was six months pregnant. I beat everybody up at (Lake Coeur d’Alene). They thought we were going to have a meeting in left field as usual and they turned around and looked, because the lake was right there, three football fields away, it was a long run for a six-month-pregnant woman,” she recalls. “The team turned around and saw me running. one said, ‘She’s running to the lake!’ They all jumped in the lake. It’s something that started when I was a player.

It happened again in 2016, when Utah knocked out Kentucky on the road in the regional. The video of the Utes jumping into a swimming pool has gone viral. Months later, at the Pac-12 softball coaches meetings, the Pac-12 marketing department said the video received the most views of anything Pac-12 softball that year. .

“They said, ‘This is a big deal.’ We didn’t do it to try to be a big deal. We were just us. Some people thought it looked fun,” Hogue said. “That’s why we did it, because it was fun. We don’t do this for the subscribers, but we do it because it’s what we do and it’s fun.

Earlier this month, at the Pac-12 tournament, the Utes took the plunge again.

“We almost got fined $500 at the resort because it’s not good for their pool,” she said. “This time we made sure at home we had a place to jump, so it was a bit more organised. I have some cool pics of us wet, in uniform, from 1991. I think that’s a pretty fun tradition.

This weekend, Utah hopes to continue that tradition — taking another jump in a pool after earning a berth at the College World Series.

Head coach Amy Hogue works out with the Utah softball team during a practice at Dumke Family Softball Stadium in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

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