We have a lot of confidence already. But I think this is adding a little bit more swagger. —Utah pitcher Miranda Viramontes
SALT LAKE CITY — As the Utah softball players erupted in celebratory screams, Hannah Flippen’s eyes met fellow senior Anissa Urtez and in her teammate’s tears she saw the magnitude of the historic moment they helped make possible.
The two embraced at the center of the chaos that followed the televised announcement that Utah would be an NCAA Tournament regional host for the first time in school history.
“Definitely stomach turning,” Flippen said of the 20 minutes of selection show that preceded the announcement that Utah, which was awarded a No. 11 seed with a 33-14 record, would host Fordham, Mississippi State (36-20) and BYU (44-11) in this weekend’s opening tournament rounds. “They’re talking about teams that haven’t hosted, teams that have beaten seven ranked teams, like that’s us. But I still was like, ‘I don’t know, it could still be somebody else.’ So the whole time it was like biting my nails, stomach is turning and then seeing our name up there was just a big sigh of relief.”
BYU (44-11) and Mississippi State (36-20) square off at 4 p.m. MDT on Thursday, followed by Utah (33-14) taking on Fordham (45-15) at 7 p.m. Thursday, with BYU and Utah will both have to win in order to play Friday at 1 p.m., but that’s something the Utes hope will happen.
“We’ve got some things to settle with a couple of the teams on our side of the bracket,” Flippen said, referring to the fact that the Cougars beat Utah in their only meeting this season. “So that will be exciting.”
As Utah head coach Amy Hogue watched her players celebrate, she was filled with pride because last spring the team set a goal to host the first round of the playoffs.
“That’s what it’s all about,” she said of the emotional scene. “I mean, it’s about them having this goal, and I watched them set it a long time ago; literally as soon as the season ended last year, they said, ‘One more step. That’s hosting. And that’s the World Series.’”
The Utes have embraced incremental improvements each season, which resulted in their third consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. It’s worth noting that all 13 SEC teams made it into the tournament, as did eight Pac-12 teams. Five of those teams – No. 2 Arizona, No. 3 Oregon, No. 5 UCLA, No. 6 Washington and No. 11 Utah will host first-round games.
While the Utes said they have played well on the road, they feel hosting the games will give them an edge, as well as added confidence.
“It always has advantages,” Hogue said. “Especially against teams that haven’t played at our field. It’s difficult to go someplace you’ve never been. I know because every game we’ve played in the postseason so far as been a place we’ve never been to. So we know.”
Junior pitcher Miranda Viramontes said this moment was so meaningful because it’s something they’d been working toward for years.
“It felt amazing,” she said. “The senior class, they kind of started it all. And for my junior class to come in and help that out, it’s just amazing. To contribute to that growth, it’s so rewarding.”
She said hosting gives them a little more “swag” than they already have.
“We have a lot of confidence already,” she said. “But I think this is adding a little bit more swagger.”
Flippen said it isn’t just about having a home field advantage, and it’s one of the reasons she and her shortstop couldn’t stop the tears during the celebration.
“We just said, ‘We get to play more games on our field,” Flippen said. “And I think that’s what’s most exciting. That was a goal we’ve had from the beginning of the year, and to accomplish it was huge for us.”