Pima College coach Todd Holthaus is a victory away from career win No. 500, factoring in his seven years at Flowing Wells High School, but he is only thinking of winning his first national championship.
The Aztecs came a victory away from winning the NJCAA Division II title in 2010-11, Holthaus’ fourth season at the school.
His teams have also finished third (2008-09 and 2015-16) and fifth (2009-10 and 2018-19).
This will be his eighth team competing in the NJCAA Division II championship in his 16th year at Pima.
The seventh-seeded Aztecs (25-7) play North Central Missouri (23-6) at Port Huron, Mich., at 10 a.m., Tucson time. The game will be streamed live for a daily fee of $10 (purchasing streams for the entire event is $30).
“The biggest thing is I try to keep (playing in the national tournament) as normal as possible,” said Holthaus, who is 499-223 in his 25th year overall at Pima and Flowing Wells. “Enjoy your time there because it is a memory you’ll remember forever. Our approach is the same when we’re at home basketball-wise and we’ll try to has some fun on the side.”
Pima’s strength is its guard play with three-year players Angel Addleman (Palo Verde graduate) and Luisa Chavez (Rio Rico) but the Aztecs have a presence inside with Matehya Aberle, Dominique Acosta (Nogales) and Torrance Begay.
Addleman and Chavez played in Pima’s last experience in the national tournament at Hickory, N.C., in 2020-21.
That was an abnormal season, however, because of COVID-19 restrictions with the Aztecs playing only five regular-season games (with a 2-3 record) before playing in a district championship game at Dallas, where it beat host Mountain View College 79-51 to advance to the national tournament.
The Aztecs finished in eighth place with a 2-2 record in Hickory.
Pima did not advance to the national tournament last season after losing in the NJCAA Region I Division II championship game at Mesa with Addleman sidelined with a torn ACL.
She and Chavez gained an extra year of eligibility because of the seasons of 2019-20 and 2020-21 affected by COVID-19.
“It’s kind of a new experience for all of us so we’re really excited,” said Addleman, who is averaging 10.2 points and 4.1 assists per game. “It’s one game at a time; these are the best teams so we’re excited to be challenged and have a new experience all together.”
What makes Addleman and Chavez most efficient within Holthaus’ transition game is their rebounding ability, creating the opportunity to push the ball upcourt.
Chavez, who leads the Aztecs with 12.9 points per game, is second in rebounding at 6.8 a game (behind Acosta’s 7.1 average) and Addleman is third at 6.3.
“It makes the coach feel really good,” Holthaus said when asked what the leadership of Chavez and Addleman means. “I know I can count on them. The moment’s not going to be too big for them. That will trickle down to everybody else, to the people who haven’t been there before.
“Just having that experience, that’s what leadership is all about. You hope to go there with some experience, and we’ve got that.”
North Central Missouri is making a consecutive trip to the national tournament. The Pirates finished sixth last season.
NCMC 5-foot-10 sophomore forward Maci Moore holds the school record with 680 career rebounds.
“Maci has been a force to reckon with since she stepped on the court here at NCMC,” coach Jenni Croy said. “She has a knack for the ball and great hands under the basket. We have been fortunate to have Maci be a part of our program. She’s proved to be one of the best post players to ever come through our program.”
The Pirates’ sophomore point guard Nora Ford leads the team with 18.5 points and 5.3 assists per game. She is shooting 44.9 percent from the field, including 41.3 percent from 3-point range.
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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.