Pima Coach Todd Holthaus, center, saw his team fall just short of the NJCAA national tournament last year. The Aztecs return a strong group of players this year, led by sophomore Raja Moreno-Ross.

Kelly Presnell/Arizona Daily Star 2011

After falling 58-45 to Mesa in last season’s region championships, the Pima Community College women’s basketball team lost more than a shot at the NJCAA national tournament.

First team All-American A’jha Edwards left, too, for Montana State University-Northern.

Sophomore Raja Moreno-Ross might not have the size to fill the 6-foot-5-inch hole Edwards left behind. But the versatile power forward from Tucson High is quickly becoming “one of the most talented players” to ever play for the Aztecs, coach Todd Holthaus said.

Moreno-Ross — a player Holthaus describes as a “sledgehammer” in the paint — is entering just her fourth year of organized basketball, though her raw ability shone through last season as she averaged 7.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

The Star recently sat down with Moreno-Ross to find out more about her development and the coming season.

What was the transition like to basketball after playing soccer for so many years?

A: “I played soccer probably since I was 4 to 15 and I was pretty comfortable. So when I started out playing basketball and left Ironwood Ridge to come to Tucson High and play under coach Paul Reed, it was the most uncomfortable setting. I wanted to go home and cry every day because he was a hard coach and had a great program, and I was just coming in there, and it was all brand new to me. … Soccer and basketball run at the same time in high school, so I made a choice. And really it’s because basketball tends to give out more scholarships than soccer does. Not that I was looking for the easy way out, but I wanted to try something new. I was at that point in my life. And I just so happened to be pretty good at (basketball).

Holthaus said the light bulb gets brighter and brighter every day. Do you feel like you’re starting to grasp the game better?

A: “Yes. I mean, the athleticism was there; it was moreso (about) having a basketball IQ. You need to be smart on the floor and know when to do this, so I’m a lot more comfortable this year. I’m not taking it easy, but I can breathe now. I don’t have to worry about (simple) things as much. I can just go out there and play.”

You were more of a banger inside the paint last season, but have you added any other elements to your game?

A: “I developed a jumper moreso at the end of the season and then fine-tuned it this summer. So this year it’s ready to go, the 15-to-17-foot shots. They should watch out for it … We got a brand-new shooting machine this summer and that was exciting. So I was coming in, working with coach, getting that shot together and focusing on my form.”

Pima typically plays a tough non-league schedule right out of the gate, and this year is no different. What’s the team’s mentality like with such a challenging start to the season?

A: “The mentality is just to work hard, to have a positive outlook on the season, but really to take it day by day. Just be ready to play; we don’t give up. People look at our team and we don’t look like much, but we’re going to be turning some heads and making some surprises coming up soon.”

After the ACCAC Jamboree in the offseason, Holthaus said several Division I schools were interested in you. What’s your plan after this season?

A: “I’m definitely looking to go Division I. Like there’s no other option. As of right now, I’m looking to get into bigger conferences — Pac-12 or the WAC, really anywhere Division I. People ask me what type of schools do I have in mind, and not to say that I don’t care, but as long as I’m going Division I and my preference is to stay West Coast, I’m really open to go anywhere. I’ve never really had a dream college, I just want to make sure I go to school and get my degree.”