Todd Holthaus has coached 24 years, including 22 as a head coach with Pima College and Flowing Wells High School, but he experienced the feeling of a first-year coach again Tuesday night.
As he saw his team and Community Christian College about to start the game at the West Campus Gym, he mentioned, “I had butterflies; I was nervous.”
“I’ve been doing this a long time, but I can be honest and say that it was a little bit surreal, just because of what we’ve gone through and what we’ve had to wait out in order to get to that moment,” he said.
Holthaus, his staff and the Aztecs went more than a calendar year — “It’s been 375 days to be exact,” Holthaus said — without playing a game because of COVID-19 protocols.
The wait came to an end with a convincing 110-50 win over Community Christian, a team from Redlands, Calif.
The Aztecs’ previous game was a victory at Mesa in the ACCAC Division II championship on March 7, 2020. Shortly thereafter, COVID-19 caused the cancelation of the NJCAA Division II national tournament.
Pima’s 2020-21 season originally was slated to start in November but the initial practices for junior colleges in Arizona were postponed until January.
Division I schools such as Central Arizona and Eastern Arizona have been playing since January. Pima’s Division II foes from the Maricopa County Community College system, including Mesa, canceled their seasons.
These players have worked so hard for 9 1/2 weeks and now… WE’RE BACK!!!! pic.twitter.com/Qma9jjLRiD
— Pima Women’s Basketball (@PimaWBB) March 11, 2021
Pima waited until Tuesday to play because of the administration’s concerns about COVID-19 transmission.
“I was excited for the players because I just wanted this game so bad for them,” Holthaus said. “This group of kids has done everything they’ve been asked to do, and they finally got a reward for it.”
The Aztecs play only four more regular season games, but they are assured a spot in the Southwest District playoffs in Dallas starting April 9 because they are the only active Division II program in the state.
“The nice thing about the NJCAA they were like, ‘Some teams are gonna play X amount of games and some are gonna play Y amount of games,'” Holthaus said. “They were like, ‘If you get the qualifiers and you to do what you’re supposed to, you’ll have a chance to play for a national title.’
“The district playoffs have been kind of the carrot that we’ve been putting in front of the kids. When our games were getting postponed, we just said, ‘Hey, look, it’s bad. It’s rough. You’ll be okay. Just remember we’re still playing for something. Whether we play one game or whether we play five, we still get a chance to play for something.’ They’re awesome about staying focused and staying together.”
On the verge of 300 wins at Pima Community College, @PimaWBB & @PimaAthletics women’s basketball coach Todd Holthaus @AztecCoachTodd reflects on his coaching career as the Aztecs await Covid-19 protocol clearance to play their first game.https://t.co/iv5uzQg15U
— Kevin Murphy (@KevinMurfee) March 8, 2021
Holthaus has administered three intrasquad scrimmages in the last month to keep his team sharp. His accomplished staff that includes former Arizona assistant coach Jim Rosborough, Nalani Hernandez, Pete Fajardo and strength and conditioning coach Carla Garrett have maintained a high level of competitiveness among the group, which includes seven players from Southern Arizona.
“Sometimes intrasquad scrimmages can get ragged, but the girls did a great job of just taking them for what their worth and used them to the best of our ability,” Holthaus said.
One of the local standouts — Rio Rico grad Luisayde Chavez — particularly caught Holthaus’ eye during the preseason and against Community Christian. She was the leading scorer Tuesday with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the field, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range to go along with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Fellow freshman Mackenzie Kinsel of Flagstaff Desert Edge finished with 16 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
Holthaus mentioned Chavez is the “best surprise” among the talented freshman class that includes players such as Angel Addleman of Palo Verde, Mariah Clark of Pueblo, and Jaslyn Booker and Lydia Griffith of Buena.
“We’ve seen Luisayde in practice but it was nice for other people to see it (on Pima’s live stream because fans are not yet allowed),” Holthaus said. “She’s just going to be a stud. We knew it, but some times when you turn the lights on, people play differently. She actually played better than what I probably expected.”
Holthaus’ team features two NCAA Division I signees — guard Fama Thiam to New Mexico State and forward Sierra Mich’l to NAU. It is the first time since 2010 that his program has featured more than one Division I prospect on a team.
Flowing Wells grad Abyee Maracigan (Idaho State) and Tia Morrison (UNLV) were the previous pair.
“It’s definitely nice two have two of them, I’m not gonna lie,” Holthaus said with a laugh. “It makes us coaches look good, that’s for sure.”
Mich’l had 15 points Tuesday and went 6-for-8 from the field with four rebounds and three blocks. Thiam had 11 points, nine assists, four rebounds and three steals.
Sophomores Keara Felix (10 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals) and Melissa Simmons (11 points going 3 for 4 from 3-point range) also had productive games.
Pima wore orange uniforms for the first time in four years. The Aztecs’ main color schemes in this short season will be orange, blue and white uniforms. No gray uniforms this year.
“You know, kids nowadays they like to have variety,” Holthaus said. “They like to have something different, so they enjoyed it.
“It was just an enjoyable day overall to get back out there.”
Pima next plays Thursday at home against Eastern Arizona at 6 p.m. The game follows the men’s season opener against Eastern Arizona at 4.
2020-21 PIMA ROSTER
|0||Mackenzie Kinsel||G||Fr.||5-7||Flagstaff / Desert Edge|
|1||Fama Thiam||G||Soph.||5-11||Gilbert / Highland|
|4||Sierra Mich’l||F/C||Soph.||6-1||Las Vegas, NV / Desert Oasis|
|5||Keara Felix||F/G||Soph.||5-11||Aurora, CO / Overland|
|10||Angel Addleman||G||Fr.||5-5||Palo Verde|
|12||Tayla Nez||G||Soph.||5-4||Kayenta / Monument Valley|
|13||Aaliyah Ortiz||G||Soph.||5-6||Palo Verde|
|15||Kaycee Kimball||G||Fr.||5-4||Queen Creek / ALA|
|22||Luisayde Chavez||G||Fr.||5-8||Rio Rico|
|24||Izzy Enriquez||G||Soph.||5-6||Buckeye / Mountain Pointe|
|25||Melissa Simmons||G||Soph.||5-8||Las Vegas, NV / Desert Oasis|
|30||Chassen Gutierrez||F||Soph.||5-9||Los Angeles / Fairfax|
|40||Victoria Malaki||F/C||Fr.||6-0||Mesa / Dobson|
|44||Nikya Orange||F/C||Soph.||5-11||Tanque Verde|
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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.