Not since early March has the Pima College women’s basketball coaching staff and players met as a group in person at the West Campus gymnasium.
With COVID-19 safety precautions lingering and members of the team spread from Tucson to Las Vegas, coach Todd Holthaus tried to honor his team’s NJCAA Regional I, Division II title the best he could with a ring ceremony over a ZOOM meeting tonight.
Each player and coach received a blue bag they were given specific directions of not to open until tonight’s meeting. In the bag was a Pima regional championship shirt and a small black box that enclosed the title ring, the “Infinity Stone” from Avengers fame as referred to by Holthaus and assistant Pete Fajardo.
They opened the boxes simultaneously and then displayed their rings close to their cameras.
“We never really got to tie a bow on it (the season) and put it away nice like we always did,” Holthaus told his team. “Today, is that bow.”
All of his staff was present, including former Arizona men’s assistant coach Jim Rosborough, Lute Olson‘s top aide for two decades, and Wildcat All-American and Hall of Fame track and field athlete Carla Garrett.
“I am so blown away by this program,” said Garrett, the Aztecs’ strength and conditioning coach who has worked in that capacity for various schools since 1994, two years after she competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in the discus.
“Coach does more with less than any coach I have ever been around in terms of all of it. I couldn’t be more proud to be part of this program.”
Rosborough said that in his 46 years of coaching this was “one of my one or two most satisfying seasons.” He was an assistant at Arizona when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title.
“They all know how I feel about them, but it was one hell of a season,” Rosborough said. “It was great to be with these young ladies, no question.”
Also in the meeting was assistant Nalani Hernandez, a former Tucson High School standout. When Holthaus showed the team a video of Pima defeating rival Mesa on March 5 on the road for the title, Hernandez could not stop grinning, especially when reacting to team manager Montrell Gantt’s screams after every made basket when he was filming the game.
“Watching that game all over again just brings back all that energy that they just naturally had from the tip all the way through,” Hernandez said. “It was an amazing season all the way through. I was just happy to be a part of it. I love you guys so much … beautiful, beautiful people.”
Fajardo, who was the head coach of boys and girls programs at Catalina Foothills, Sahuaro and Salpointe, added, “This is probably the best year of coaching that I ever had. Todd and I actually spent yesterday talking about when I first started recruiting some of the kids, just how fun it’s been.”
Pima’s 76-59 win over Mesa capped a nine-game winning streak to end the season. The Aztecs were unable to play for a national title because the NJCAA canceled the tournament at Port Huron, Mich., because of COVID-19.
The Aztecs finished 25-7 overall. They are the sixth regional title team Holthaus has coached in his 13 years with the program.
They also were deemed an NJCAA Academic All-American team with their 3.36 team grade-point average (GPA). The Women’s Basketball Coaches Association ranked Pima among the top 25 junior college programs in the nation based on their achievements on the court and in the classroom.
“You’re a class group of people,” Pima athletic director Jim Monaco told the team in the ZOOM meeting. “That stems from leadership. It comes from the top. Your coach is a quality, class man who is an incredible hard worker and intelligent in more ways than you know because he takes care of a lot of things that are not basketball related.
“You guys are amazing. We have the most athletic teams in the entire state and we have the best GPA there is and you have the top in our school. You are amazing to be around. You are wonderful young ladies. The coaching staff is incredible. I’m honored to be part of it.”
Holthaus earned his sixth regional coach of the year honor.
Marana graduate Alyssa Perez was the regional tournament MVP and is now a student manager at UNLV.
Hallie Lawson was chosen an NJCAA Division II All-American and the ACCAC Division II Player of the Year. She is attending Adams State.
Haile Gleason has moved on to Arizona Christian where she will complete her career.
Sierra Mich’l, a sophomore forward with the Aztecs this season, has committed to NAU.
“This is killing me … not to be there in person,” Holthaus said emotionally. “I just want you all to know how special it was. It was amazing. We’ll see each other all at some point and time down the road and get to hug and do all those great things we miss doing.
“I want you to know that I hope you always hang on to that Infinity Stone and wear it with pride. Just know that we had an amazing run and all of it is because of you guys.”
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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.