Makayla Holthaus stayed on the Ironwood Ridge gym floor as much as she could Tuesday night after the 45-29 win over Cienega on Senior Night. She hugged her head coach. She embraced, danced and sang with her teammates.
The locker room, away from the celebration with family and friends, was not in the immediate plans. Not on Senior Night. Not after 90 games in four years wearing the Ironwood Ridge uniform.
She mingled with her dad Todd Holthaus and members of his Pima College women’s basketball team and coaching staff at midcourt.
Makayla Holthaus’ career has grown as much as she has in her @IronwoodRidgeHS career & also w/@TucsonRattlers. Her dad @AztecCoachTodd says he’s most proud of her has a person. Ottawa U’s head coach was at Senior Night tonight. Others are recruiting her as well. Exciting time. pic.twitter.com/Fg8Xztxcja
Asked what he is most proud of about Makayla, Todd said, “She’s just a good human being in terms of she’s always kind and she’s great in school and she treats others with respect and I guess you know, when you when you look at it, the world can use a lot more people like that.”
Makayla took photos with her family. Her friends gave her and other seniors a big bucket of gifts. She was on the court more than a half-hour after the game ended, still in uniform, with some of her teammates.
“It’s been a journey; it’s been a long four years,” said Makayla, a 6-foot-1 prospect who is averaging 11.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 2.7 blocks per game this season.
“This past year, by far has been my favorite season.”
She feels that way despite a season in which Ironwood Ridge is 11-16. The feeling comes from new coach Daron Cross and being around five other seniors who have developed into a cohesive unit through the trials and tribulations.
Makayla increased her production and playing time drastically this year compared to her first three seasons behind the guidance of Cross, who made the bold switch from coaching boys basketball at Tucson High School to the girls at Ironwood Ridge after nearly three decades of coaching boys, other than when he was an assistant briefly under former Sahuaro girls coach Jim Scott.
“Coach Cross just gets it,” Makayla said. “We’re always on the same page, him and I especially. Him knowing my dad forever and me being around how my dad coaches forever, we just know how everyone rolls.”
Despite having only one season as Makayla’s coach, the personal connection between him and Makayla and the Nighthawks was obvious in the game against Cienega. It was truly a family atmosphere. What coach would openly dance on the floor with his players and coaches like Cross did after last night’s game?
“I love to coach in the girls spectrum,” Cross said. “They trust you. They run through a wall for you. So it was about me coming in and gaining their trust and gaining their respect and understanding of the game and knowing that I was going to put them in the best position possible to succeed, not just on the basketball court, but in life.”
Todd and his wife Jennifer were as emotionally charged about Senior Night as Makayla, which tells the story right there. They know she is living the promise they have seen from her since a young age.
“It’s pretty surreal in a lot of ways because basketball is such a big part of our family, but then you kind of like watch it from a father’s perspective,” Todd said. “It’s pretty humbling. I’m so proud of her like, everybody assumes you know your kids are going to be basketball players, but I never wanted to force it on them. They’ve just kind of picked it up on their own and it’s been fun to watch her grow and this year she’s had such a incredible year.”
Other than him coaching at Pima, the Holthaus name will be a household name in Tucson with three younger ones playing basketball. “I’d rather have people read about them in the years to come than about me coaching,” he said with a laugh.
Stephen Moss, the head coach for Ottawa University, an NAIA school based at Surprise, also joined the crowd on the court and took part in the group photos and celebration.
Makayla, after scoring nine points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the victory in her final game in that gym for the Nighthawks, was not ready to discuss her next move to college.
She is so protective of her college choice that her parents do not even know her next move. Todd insinuated to me before the game that his daughter would make her college plans be known afterward. He had a hunch his daughter would pick Ottawa.
Makayla, however, told me she remains undecided, which seemed to be a bit of a surprise for Todd, who would obviously love for her to be at Pima with him. He also knows the opportunity for her to join a four-year program is tough to beat.
“Very undecided,” Makayla said of her recruiting. “I haven’t made any sort of a decision but I have a few options, so kind of narrowing the list down.”
First things first: More opportunities to continue her career at Ironwood Ridge with the postseason starting tomorrow. She is not ready to let go of her Nighthawk career just yet.
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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.