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Nicole Boliaux, Deseret News
Utah starting pitcher Katie Donovan pitches against Oregon at the Dumke Family Softball Stadium on the University of Utah's campus in Salt Lake City on Sunday, March 26, 2017. Oregon went on to win, 3-0.
This is something we’ve been dreaming of doing since we were freshmen. —Utah's Anissa Urtez

SALT LAKE CITY — When the Utah women’s softball team takes the field against Fordham University Thursday night as a regional host in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament they will be competing for far more than themselves and the goals they set this season.

“Our success now is a success for all of us,” said Utah head coach and alum Amy Hogue. “It’s not just a success for these current players. They started something that we’re just continuing.”

Anissa Urtez said this year’s seniors feel a special responsibility to tie the program’s past and future together in this week’s historic moment. The idea that they’ve been building something special at Utah has changed the way she approaches competing for the Utes.

“I think we kind of just played as freshmen,” the senior shortstop said. “We didn’t really think about what this program was becoming.”

As the team improved on each year’s success with better and better players joining the roster each season, she said it became more than just winning games and having fun.

“This is something we’ve been dreaming of doing since we were freshmen,” she said. “I think as freshmen we were just happy to be out there playing softball. From that to senior year, we’re playing to compete, we’re playing for a championship and we’re playing to get to the top eight. It's actually real."

Utah will take on Fordham, 45-14, 18-5, a team that won its fifth straight Atlantic 10 Championship. Fordham is led by Madison Shaw, who has 73 RBIs and 15 home runs in 175 at-bats. She has a team-high batting average of .394 and an on-base percentage of .481. Jessica Hughes has an on-base percentage of .524 with 41 RBIs and 11 home runs in 172 at-bats.

Sydney Canessa has the most at-bats for the team with 189, and she has 39 RBIs, 65 hits and seven home runs.

For the Utes, it doesn’t matter who they face as much as how they continue what they’ve started. Each year they’ve “taken a step forward”, said Hogue. Their goal from the end of last season was to earn a high enough seed so they could host the first round of games and then earn their way into the World Series, which consists of the top eight teams.

Hogue played for Utah from 1991-1994 when she helped the program win two conference titles and make two appearances in the College Softball World Series. She said she’d love to return to the World Series as a coach.

“There is nothing sweeter, in my mind, than to play in the World Series and then to lead a team there (as a coach),” she said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Senior Hannah Flippen said she’s looking forward to playing a few more games on the field that has become home to her, but they won’t let sentimentality cloud their vision.

“I love playing here, and I’m just so grateful we get to host so I can continue playing here,” said Flippen. “But we’re just going to come into this weekend like a normal home series and compete. It’s post-season, it’s a new season, so we need to come out fresh and just worry about us, about our process and what we need to do in order to get a couple of wins this weekend.”

Urtez said that what burns in their hearts this season is far more than desire.

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“I think our whole team actually believes it this year instead of just like freshman and sophomore year we were just saying that we wanted to be that team,” Urtez said. “And now we’re doing it, like we actually have that belief and we actually have the heart to get to the top eight, and everyone’s on board and everyone knows we can do that.”

Thursday's first pitch is set for 6:30 p.m MT at the Dumke Family Softball Stadium (102 S. Wasatch Dr, Salt Lake City, UT 84112). Click here for tickets and more information. The game will also be televised on ESPN3.