When Pima Community College women’s head basketball coach Todd Holthaus reflects on his greatest memory in his 293 wins at the college level, he doesn’t have to think back too far.
“The greatest memory was probably the most recent victory. Winning last year on Mesa’s court when we reached the championship game, it’s the first time a visiting team won that game,” Holthaus said.
In what ended up being Pima’s last game of the season, the team pulled off a much coveted victory on the road at Mesa Community College in the 2020 Region I championship game. The win snapped a long trend of the home team winning in previous region championship games between the two colleges.
“We’ve played Mesa so many times in the region championship game, and the home team has always won in, I think, the previous eleven games,” Holthaus said.
After the Region I Championship victory, the NJCAA Division II tournament was canceled due of COVID-19 safety protocols, ending the Aztecs’ season prematurely. A season later, the women’s basketball team practices and awaits clearance to play their first game of the season because of the same protocols.
Iowa Farm Boy Values in the Sonoran Desert
Todd Holthaus is currently coaching in his 14th season at Pima, where he has built the women’s basketball team into a perennial tournament contender in NJCAA women’s basketball. His resume of 293 wins at Pima includes an appearance in the 2011 NJCAA Division II National Championship Game, and five top five finishes in the NJCAA Division II tournament.
In his tenure at Pima, he has been named District A Coach of the Year six times, and Arizona Community College Athletic Conference Coach of the Year twice.
The life arc that brought Holthaus to Pima began over 1,500 miles away in West Union, Iowa. Hard work and strong moral character seem to be ingrained in his genetic makeup.
“Well, I think the number one thing, and I’m big on this just because I’m an Iowa farm boy, is you just wake up everyday and you have to work. There are really no days off,” he said.
Holthaus attended Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, where he played for two seasons from 1989-1991, before being given an opportunity across the country.
“I played two years at Waldorf and got recruited to come play at Grand Canyon University, so that’s how I ended up in Arizona,” he said.
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Holthaus played at Grand Canyon from 1991-1993 and remained there to coach as a grad assistant for a brief stint. He ended up meeting his future wife Jennifer while he was working at the City Square Sports Club in Phoenix.
“That’s where we met, and she was a U of A student , so I stayed in Phoenix because I got a teaching job outside of Phoenix, while she attended the U of A,” Todd said.
“Eventually, we decided that I would move closer. I ended up coming to Tucson because she was finishing up her schooling here. I moved to Tucson in 1997 and never left.”
Upon arriving in Tucson, it didn’t take Holthaus long to land a coaching job. He was named the girls basketball coach at Flowing Wells High School in 1998. From 1998-2005, he amassed a 160-64 record at Flowing Wells.
Holthaus accepted an offer to become an assistant on Joan Bonvicini’s Arizona staff in 2005. Two years later, after coaching two seasons for the Wildcats, Holthaus accepted the Pima coaching job.
In the 14 years since Holthaus took over at Pima, he has completely changed the culture within the program.
“I think two years before I got here they were 1-29. A lot of that is for different reasons because I’m friends with the former coach (former Arizona basketball player Greta Naranjo), but the reality is that’s where they were. I looked at it as a challenge to see if I could change it around,” Holthaus said.
“Fourteen years later, it seems like we’ve done a pretty good job, and it’s not just because of me, it’s because of the kids we recruit, and my coaching staff, so it’s been fun to build it.”
The values he learned growing up in West Union are embedded into the Pima women’s basketball program. Holthaus holds his players to high standards on and off of the court.
“I think it’s probably hard work, loyalty, and then just good character. Having those core values in the ladies, it works well in the classroom and on the basketball court,” Holthaus said.
“I think that it’s important to take time along your journey to enjoy the ride, so to speak. But you should never deviate from the core of working hard, and within that being loyal; loyal to your teammates, loyal to the program, and loyal to your studies.”
Thus far, the first eight games of the 2021 Pima Women’s basketball season have been postponed due to COVID-19 safety protocols. The team still practices regularly, playing intrasquad scrimmages while they wait for clearance to play their first game. Holthaus remains positive during these adverse times.
“As grumpy as I want to be, or get about it, I guess the reality is that I get to be in the gym every day working with the kids and that’s probably what’s most important, so I have to remind myself that when I want to get frustrated,” Todd says.
Last week, during the livestream of a scrimmage, most noticeable was Aztec Gym being void of spectators, but the energy on the court and benches makes up for that. Players wore masks, but their excitement playing in a live game situation was not muffled. Three referees worked the scrimmage between the White and Navy teams.
From the opening whistle, the scrimmage had a real game feel to it. The players’ jawing and cheering could be heard above the hollering of the coaching staff echoing throughout the gym.
The White team came out of the gate hot from behind the arc, but the Navy team was able to keep the game close during the second quarter because of scrappy interior play and rebounding. By halftime, the Navy team trailed 30-25.
The Navy team put together an exciting second half performance led by freshman guards Angel Addleman (of Palo Verde) and Mackenzie Kinsel. While the White team battled through three quarters with solid guard play from sophomores Fama Thiam and Melissa Simmons, the more physical Navy team pulled away in the fourth quarter, winning 62-48.
The score is probably the last thing that matters. What matters most is that the team is still able to compete as they await clearance to begin playing their schedule. Holthaus remains grateful to be able to practice and scrimmage with the team in a time when COVID-19 has closed down other college sports programs.
“There’s a lot of places that aren’t even doing that, so we should be grateful for any opportunity we get,” Holthaus said.
Eight wins away from 300, Holthaus prepares his team and waits for the season to begin.
When asked what win No. 300 will mean, Holthaus is quick to deflect the praise to all of the players and assistants along the way.
“The most significant thing that 300 represents is a combination of a lot of things in terms of all the players in the past that contributed to many of those, all the assistant coaches that have contributed to it, and finally, that number. I guess, to me, it’s kind of a reward for all the years,” Holthaus said.
For those wondering what the secret is to his 14 years of accomplishments at Pima, Holthaus offers a blunt and modest blueprint to success.
“The secret is to recruit good players and don’t screw it up.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. He is currently attending Pima Community College where he writes for the Aztec Press. Next semester he will be attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU where he will work towards a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.