From a distance, through the rope batting cages at D-Bat Tucson, Julia Holt looked as if she could be in college, especially when standing next to some of her Desert Thunder 16-and-under teammates.
She towered over them at about 6-feet tall, with good size befitting of a dominating pitcher and powerful hitter.
Holt, however, is the youngest member of her team who at 14 is playing a level above her age group.
“She’s always played younger (than her teammates), but she sees that she can succeed,” said her mother, Lisa Holt. “It’s happened since she won a city championship with a 10-and-under team and she was 9.
“She’s always played with older girls. You don’t realize it until you show up to a tournament and there are girls driving. The girls get a kick out of it because they can drive themselves to the games and here we are, the parents, driving her.”
They are driving Julia in more ways than one.
One of the most notable ways is through the family’s athletic exploits.
Salpointe freshman Julia Holt gets her cuts in during Desert Thunder's practice at D-Bat Tucson. Holt, daughter of former Arizona football player Julius Holt, is a budding prospect who has drawn interest already from Washington and UCLA. Story upcoming in @AllSportsTucson pic.twitter.com/zDS3gHqAZe
Lisa played softball when she was in high school at Cerritos, Calif. Her league included UCLA great Lisa Fernandez. Her school won the state title one year and Fernandez’s team won it the next.
Her husband, Julius Holt, is a former Arizona football player who played linebacker and defensive tackle with the Wildcats in 1981 and 1982.
Their son Justin was an Arizona football recruit out of Salpointe Catholic who is now trying to get his football career on track at Pima Community College after not passing his concussion protocol at Arizona a couple of years ago. A defensive tackle, he resumed his career at Eastern Arizona College last season.
“What has pushed me in the right direction is seeing how hard my family has worked to get to where they wanted to go athletically,” said Julia, who will be a freshman at Salpointe next season. “It’s made me want to work so hard too. It has inspired me, basically.
“I would say my mom is mostly a coach figure for me. My mom has impacted me so much. She played softball when she was younger. She was my coach when I was younger. She taught me the fundamentals when I was little. She taught me everything I know. She really got me going into sports. I thank her a lot for that.”
Julia’s first experience on the field was at 4 years old when she played T ball with her mom as a coach. Her mom continued to coach her in Little League softball until Julia was about 8 and ready to play with youth club teams.
Lisa similarly started at a young age in the Cerritos area. The coach of her Bobby Sox team was the father of UCLA softball coach Kelly Inouye-Perez.
Lisa’s background with Fernandez and Inouye-Perez made it natural for the UCLA coaches to take an interest in Julia and vice-versa. Julia took part in an elite camp at UCLA last year and plans to attend another camp at UCLA in early August.
She also plans to attend Washington’s camp in September.
“I’ve got mail from Washington and I really want to talk to UCLA. I’ve been going to a lot of camps. I’m getting used to that,” Julia said.
She must adapt to a new NCAA rule passed in April that establishes Sept. 1 of a prospective student-athlete’s junior year in high school as the start date for all softball recruiting contact. This means that all recruiting communications between Division I softball coaches and recruiting targets and their families will be impermissible prior to Sept. 1 of the junior year.
“I still have a while to be recruited,” Julia said “I just have to work hard (in the meantime). My goal is to get to a Division I college by doing my best.”
Julia has also talked with Arizona coach Mike Candrea, who like all the other coaches must now wait two more years to come in contact with her again.
“This new rule will give her some time to focus on softball,” Julius said. “She’ll still go to camps. When the time comes, she’ll be ready.
“She’s really coming around. She’s starting to grow into her body. She is now doing strength and conditioning and fitness twice a week. She has pitching instruction twice a week and hitting once a week. And then she has practice four times a week. I also built her one of these batting cages for her in our backyard.”
Being part of the competitive Desert Thunder program should also keep Julia on the right path.
A number of Desert Thunder alums go on to college softball. Their Web site home page boasts of at least nine moving on to college programs within the last two years. Many more have advanced to that level.
Desert Thunder 16-and-under coach Jorge Campos has observed Julia progress over the last three years and sees a promising future for the powerful pitcher.
“It’s not only her size and presence in the circle, but she’s got so much power that she has not even tapped into,” Campos said. “We see it every once in a while and we know it will turn into something special in the future.
“She grew rather quickly and we just focused so much on doing things the right way. We made sure she got the fundamentals down first knowing that success will come. That has helped her push through.”
Further developing the right way: Her pitching coach is Arizona Hall of Famer and four-time All-American Alicia Hollowell-Dunn, who was also an assistant under Candrea.
“Alicia does an amazing job with her,” Julius said. “She is very knowledgeable, very patient.”
Julia and Desert Thunder are in Flagstaff this weekend playing in a regional showcase event before playing in a national tournament in Dallas later this month.
Last weekend in a tournament at Marana, Julia belted a two-run hit over the center fielder’s head with two outs to win the game. The week before that in Utah, she hit a home run over the fence and tripled.
“She handles pressure really well,” Julius said. “She fits right in with those older girls.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.