Pima Community College sports

Pima sets “The Standard” of strength of schedule with at-large bid in NJCAA Division II tourney

Pima’s players and coaches wore shirts that read “The Standard/Pima Basketball” on Tuesday afternoon as they anxiously awaited their fate for the NJCAA Division II tournament.

As they sat before the large TV screen at the West Aztec Gym watching the tournament selection show, the Aztecs (23-8) were hopeful to be one of the four at-large teams with the NJCAA expanding its field from 16 teams to 20 for the first time.

A loss in the regional semifinals at home last Thursday against Scottsdale forced coach Todd Holthaus, his staff and players to nervously be in a wait-and-see mode over the last few days.

“Definitely nervous,” said freshman guard Rylei Waugh, the ACCAC Region I Division II Player of the Year. “I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat, couldn’t even do my homework. I’ve been up for a couple of days now.

“Just hearing that (Pima’s selection) was such a relief and our placing was better than what any of us anticipated. It is such a relief. We’re going to go into practice with everyone excited.”

Pima is the No. 13 seed and will face No. 20 Coastal Alabama North (19-11) at 7 a.m., Tucson time, on Monday in a first-round game at Joplin, Mo.

Waugh, a Los Angeles product, has been Pima’s driving force, leading the team in scoring (16.4 points a game), assists (5.7) and steals (2.3). She also averages 5.8 rebounds a game.

The Aztecs made the tournament with seven seeds to spare mainly because of their strength of schedule.

They played five games against Division I opponents (Central Arizona, Cochise, Eastern Arizona, Arizona Western and Yavapai) within their own conference and went 2-3.

Pima also played Division I non-conference opponents South Plains (Texas) (twice), Howard (Texas), Salt Lake Community College, Bismarck (N.D.) State and Eastern Wyoming.

The Aztecs’ record in those games: 4-2.

Pima going 6-5 against Division I competition as a Division II program certainly impressed the selection committee.

“We got beat Thursday night and that just makes you nervous, but then you have that small glimmer of hope that you did enough throughout the course of the year that it will help us when it comes to the decision making,” said Holthaus, who will coach his ninth Aztec team in the national tournament in his 16 years leading the program.

Holthaus submitted recently to the NJCAA Division II selection committee the Aztecs’ qualifications to be part of the tournament field.

The information proved valuable.

“It makes me happy in a sense that we schedule hard,” Holthaus said. “That played a big part in it because almost half of our schedule is against D1 colleges. I feel like the ability to play those teams as opposed to playing JV teams probably helped us in some sense.

“We submitted the bid. We were hoping on the whole body of work for the season that it would speak for itself. We have a young group of freshmen so this will be good for them.”

Nogales High School graduate Dominique Acosta, one of only four sophomores on the team, jumped for joy when she saw Pima’s name pop on the TV screen during the selection show.

She has the experience of playing in the NJCAA Division II tournament last year at Huron, Mich. The Aztecs went 1-2 in the tournament. They lost their last two games after winning in the first round.

“I took a lot from last year’s sophomores and applied it to this year,” said Acosta, who is averaging 13.1 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. “Thankfully, the freshmen were listening, making sure everything’s good and we all work together fine.”


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 in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
To Top