‘Nothing like we’ve ever seen’: What to expect when Utes take on SDSU in NCAA Super Regional
The Utah softball team faces the Aztecs at Dumke Stadium starting Friday in a best-of-three series for the right to advance to the Women’s College World Series
One day after the Utah softball team accomplished a remarkable feat Sunday by defeating Mississippi to earn the chance to host an NCAA Super Regional for the first time in school history, coach Amy Hogue fixed the mailbox, mowed her lawn, grilled salmon on the barbecue for her kids and watched “Ted Lasso.”
“It was fun. It made me a little bit jealous of all the people that I’ve got to coach and play with that were there just enjoying it and I was out there working. It’s fascinating how things have gone nuts with our community, our fans and our alums, trying to get seats.” — Utah coach Amy Hogue
“I actually took part of the day off,” she said. “I did regular-people things.”
The reason why she had some free time Monday was because the Utes, who are riding 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-seeded Utah faces Mountain West Conference tournament champion San Diego State starting Friday (8 p.m. MDT, ESPNU) in a best-of-three series for the right to advance to the Women’s College World Series.
“It’s exciting to host back-to-back, not just because of our fans but because our team is getting rested while other teams are traveling,” said Hogue. “We’re getting our team ready for the environment that we haven’t ever had at Dumke Stadium. If we can get the 2,500 people to come back and do what they did last weekend, I promise they’re going to get a Utah team that’s prepared and I can’t wait. The environment is going to be nothing like we’ve ever seen. I guarantee it.”
‘I heard everything’
Last weekend, the Utes defeated Southern Illinois, and Ole Miss twice, in front of 2,506 fans at a raucous Dumke Stadium.
Typically, Hogue is oblivious to the crowd noise at any given game. But things were different last weekend.
“First of all, it was nuts,” she explained. “The fans were so into it and so loud.”
Also, when games are televised on ESPN, there are longer breaks between innings because of the commercials. That means more time to wait — and to take in what’s happening in the stands.
“I’ve been known to not notice a darn thing in the crowd. I have this uncanny ability to hear nothing, see nothing,” she said. “I have a lot I’m thinking about in a game. Someone has to tell me about what was happening in the crowd. I hear nothing. But this weekend, I heard everything.”
Between innings, she heard the chants of “Let’s Go Utah!” She noticed fans doing the wave.
Among those that attended those games included her former Utah teammates and former Utah coaches.
“It was fun. It made me a little bit jealous of all the people that I’ve got to coach and play with that were there just enjoying it and I was out there working,” Hogue said. “It’s fascinating how things have gone nuts with our community, our fans and our alums, trying to get seats.
“It’s been exciting. I’ve been a part of Utah softball for long enough that I have teammates that are flying out. I have former coaches that I got to see at the game. I’ve coached this team for 16 years. All of the people that have played for me are showing up in droves.”
After capturing the regionals championship, Hogue was on the receiving end of a Gatorade dump — not from her players, but from her former teammates.
“I thought I was pretty safe,” she said. “I had my eye on my team and, sure enough, my teammates came in with the blue Gatorade. I’m still trying to clean my white shoes.”
The support has been strong and impactful.
“Ever since the Pac-12 tournament championship, it’s been nuts the amount of people that have gotten on board to watch and come out,” Hogue said. “I’m seeing pictures and people are sending me videos of all the things that happened because they knew I missed it. They’re all changing their plans and changing flights as we speak. They had out-of-town plans for this weekend they are like, ‘We’re staying home now.’”
As well as the Utes are playing now, they struggled during the final two weeks of April when they lost five of six games. Utah dropped two of three games at No. 9 Washington and were swept at home against No. 2 UCLA.
But the Utes rebounded from those disappointments in a big way.
“Looking back, it was a turning point for us,” Hogue said. “That was a growing phase of what we’ve been doing. That is, how you get better even if you lost; the importance of growing no matter what. You train harder. It gives you a good chance to grow and get better as you lose. You lost that one-on-one battle — how are you going to win it the next time?
“That has been a phenomenal thing for our team because they have taken the steps that are needed in order to make sure they don’t get beat again the same way. The training they’ve done and the willingness to look at what they failed at and make sure it doesn’t happen again is what ended up happening. They learned from all of 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 that it had lost series to during the regular season — California, Washington and UCLA — and beat all three.
At the Pac-12 tournament championship in Tucson, Arizona, the Utes snapped the Bruins’ 25-game winning streak.
“It’s not rocket science. That’s literally all it was. You beat me this way, we’re going to figure out how you beat me and not let it happen again,” she said. “We beat Washington when it mattered in the tournament and we beat UCLA when it mattered in the tournament. We’ve been on a nine-game winning streak.”
Hogue said she wasn’t too shocked when the Bruins failed to make it out of the 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 anybody,” she said. “As long as you’re on the same diamond, I’ll never be surprised when someone gets beat. It’s so hard to win games against anybody.”
Making a splash — again
Monday, Utah posted a video on social media of players — dressed in full uniform — and coaches jumping into the swimming pool on campus.
It’s a tradition that stretches back about 30 years.
During Hogue’s freshman season at Utah in 1991, the Utes knocked off Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, to advance to the College World Series. After the game, the team bus parked on 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 in, our athletic director, Fern Gardner, was in the pool. Everyone got in the pool,” Hogue said. “It has been such an iconic moment. After that, it became a thing for our team. You win championships and you get in the pool.”
The Utes did it again when they went to the College World Series again during Hogue’s senior season in 1994.
“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 celebration didn’t happen at a swimming pool. While coaching SLCC, Hogue’s team won the conference title at North Idaho College.
“I was six months pregnant. I beat everybody to (Lake Coeur d’Alene). They thought we were going to have a meeting in left field as normal 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 recalled. “The team turned around and saw me running. Someone said, ‘She’s running for the lake!’ They all jumped in the lake. It’s a thing that started when I was a player.”
It happened again in 2016, when Utah eliminated Kentucky on the road in the regional. The video of the Utes jumping into a pool went viral. Months later, during the Pac-12 softball coaches’ meetings, the Pac-12 marketing department said the video had received the highest number of hits of anything Pac-12 softball-related that year.
“They said, ‘It’s a big deal.’ We didn’t do it to try to be a big deal. We were just being us.’ Some people thought it looked fun,” Hogue said. “That’s why we did it, because it was fun. We’re not doing this for the followers but we’re doing it because this is what we do and it’s fun.”
Earlier this month, at the Pac-12 tournament, the Utes took the plunge again.
“We almost got a $500 fine at the resort because it’s not good for their pool,” she said. “This time, we made sure at home that we had a spot to jump so it was a little more organized. I have some cool pictures of us sopping wet, in uniforms, dating back to 1991. I think it’s a pretty fun tradition.”
This weekend, Utah is hoping to continue that tradition — taking another leap into a pool after clinching a College World Series berth.