As the Pima women’s basketball team prepares for the NJCAA Division II national tournament, All-ACCAC sophomore forward/center Nikya Orange discussed her past, her post moves, and how the team has coped with a season chock full of hardship caused by COVID-19 protocols.
Nikya started to develop her basketball skills when she was in middle school under the tutelage of Chris Klassen and staff with the Tucson Rattlers club team.
From there, she went on to play basketball at Tanque Verde High School, where she was coached by Michael Edwards. According to Orange, that’s where she really started getting comfortable playing in the low post.
“I would like to credit Coach Edwards, he’s such a good coach,” Orange said. “He put so much time into coaching me, and teaching me post moves and just really tried to open my mind through the game.”
After graduating from Tanque Verde, Nikya played her freshman season of college basketball with Cochise College before transferring to Pima for her sophomore season.
Because of COVID-19 protocols, this season was by no means guaranteed.
The Aztecs practiced and waited as the games on the schedule got cancelled on a weekly basis until mid-March. The team did their best to weather the storm by staying positive about the chance of competing against other teams.
“It was really hard just coming in and pushing it, and giving it your all when we didn’t know if we were going to play or not,” said Orange. “The girls have such good energy, and we just always kept our hopes up and we always pushed each other to make ourselves better.”
.@PimaWBB and coach @AztecCoachTodd Holthaus begin play Tuesday night in the NJCAA Division II national tournament in North Carolina. Holthaus wants to get “the big one” in his seventh national tournament in 14 years as Pima’s coach. The details: https://t.co/VEDOyRAQa2
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) April 19, 2021
Pima was finally able to squeeze in five regular season games, going 2-3 before qualifying for the NJCAA Southwest District championship in Dallas.
Because of other teams in Arizona cancelling their seasons, the only team between the Aztecs qualifying for the national tournament was Dallas College-Mountain View College.
It is during that title game that the flip was firmly switched on for the Aztecs’ season. Pima dominated Mountain View, winning 79-51. Orange filled the stat sheet that afternoon with 17 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks.
The game represented a typical balanced performance for Orange who was recently named third-team All-ACCAC and was selected to the All-Region I team.
She prides herself on being a versatile player for the Aztecs.
“I think of it more as me trying to contribute more of what I can to the team, so I just try to always push myself in anything,” Orange said. “So whether it is, points or my post move, or whether it’s rebounds, I just try and play my hardest.”
Pima plays Illinois Central College in the first round of the NJCAA Division II national tournament on Tuesday in Hickory, N.C. at 6 p.m. Tucson time.
Pima head coach Todd Holthaus spoke highly of Orange during the team’s second to last practice before heading to North Carolina to play in the national tournament.
“She is a powerful force, that is what I would say,” said Holthaus. “The best part about it is she doesn’t even realize how good she is going to get, so her ability to not only just rebound everything, but offensively she is so good around the basket. She’s explosive. She gets off the ground. She’s got great hands and it’s a nice complement to what (forward) Sierra (Mich’l) does.”
While Orange brings an intensity inside the paint for the Aztecs, she lends her charisma to the team off the court as well.
“As fierce as she is on the court, she’s just as loving and caring off the court, and I think that helps our chemistry immensely,” Holthaus said.
Lucky for Holthaus and the Aztecs, Orange is taking advantage of the extra season of eligibility offered to her because of COVID-19 affecting this school year and will be coming back to play for Pima next year.
“I’m glad she’s here, and I’m glad she’ll be back for another year,” said Holthaus.
For a program that lost out on most of the regular season, having a player of Orange’s caliber coming back for an extra season makes the future look promising once again.
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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