Story and photo
by KYLE KERSEY
Last year, the Pima Community College Women’s Basketball team finished strong, achieving victory in the fifth-place game of the NJCAA Division II tournament.
The win came after a tough loss to Kansas City (Kansas) Community College in the quarterfinals, the team that would eventually win the championship.
Entering his 13th season with the Aztecs, Todd Holthaus has been the coach of Pima’s Women’s Basketball team since 2007. His teams have enjoyed a large amount of success, finishing as high as the runner-up in the NJCAA Division II tournament in 2011. His teams have finished with at least 20 wins over the past four seasons.
Working alongside him is a mix of four assistant coaches, including newcomer and Tucson native Nalani Hernandez, as well as returning coach Jim Rosborough. Rosborough has been with the Women’s Basketball program since 2015, but his prior coaching experience includes 27 years alongside University of Arizona men’s basketball coaching legend Lute Olson. His presence highlights the mix of youthful up-and-comers as well as accomplished veterans on Holthaus’ coaching staff.
Holthaus himself coached for three years as an assistant for the University of Arizona Women’s Basketball team under head coach Joan Bonvicini. He said the experience taught him a valuable lesson that he’s been able to apply at Pima.
“I learned that everybody has a role, whether you play 25 minutes a game or you don’t ever play,” Holthaus said. “Everybody has a role and everybody’s role is important to the success of the team. At the Division I level, not everybody plays. There’s a lot of those kids that dress out every game and don’t play a game, but they’re just as important to the success of the team because practice is where you get all your work in.”
This year’s team is very different from that of last year. Sophomore scoring machine Jacqulynn Nakai earned a scholarship to Nevada this season after setting the Pima Women’s Basketball scoring record with 1,397 career points.
In fact, Pima only returns four sophomores out of their 17 player roster. According to coach Holthaus, the constant influx of new players is an exciting part of coaching at the community college level.
“For me personally, I kind of like the chemistry experiment of it all because basically you swap out half your team every year,” Holthaus said. “And what you need to be successful in a short period of time is always an intriguing challenge for me. And we’ve done it well for 10-plus years.”
Holthaus said he welcomes the youthful nature of his team and looks to coach to its strengths.
“Last year, we had to two primary scorers: J.J. (Nakai) and Shauna (Bribiescas),” Holthaus said. “I feel like with this team, we could have four or five kids at around double digits. We’re more balanced, and honestly, I prefer that. Rather than having one that you rely on for 25 a game, I enjoy coaching teams that share the ball and don’t really care who gets the credit.”
While watching the team conduct a 30-minute scrimmage last Thursday, Holthaus’s points of emphasis became easily apparent: ball movement on offense and discipline on defense. Aztec players rarely dribble for more than a few seconds, constantly moving and passing the ball around the court to generate open looks at the basket.
“I would rather have shot attempts than turnovers, so we always emphasize taking control of the ball to make sure we get the shots we want,” Holthaus said. “Defensively, we hold each other accountable, whether it’s playing man or zone. Everyone has a job to do, and if you don’t do your job, you get exposed.”
Holthaus said he expects the team to play more zone than last year, in large part due to the makeup of their new players.
“I try not to play zone because I have a huge element of pride in our man defense,” Holthaus said. “But I think with this group in particular, we’ve never had this much length. It would be dumb not to play some zone.”
The team opened its non-conference schedule on Nov. 2 against Park University JV at the Pima West Campus Gymnasium. Holthaus said that he’ll learn a lot about his team during non-conference play.
“Our non-conference stuff is scheduled to be very hard and we want to test ourselves against great teams so we may take a few lumps at the beginning of the year, but then we’ll get into conference when we’re a little better prepared and hopefully rack up a few wins in conference,” Holthaus said.
Conference play begins the same month, as will the team’s drive to compete in another NJCAA Division II tournament.
“A lot of it depends on staying healthy,” Holthaus said. “The ACCAC is always tough every year. Every year is its own challenge. I don’t ever go into it like ‘I’ve got to win 20 this year.’ It’s kind of like the old cliché of you have to win one game at a time.”