Coming off one the best seasons in school history, a third-place finish at the national tournament and a 28-8 record, Pima College women’s basketball coach Todd Holthaus knows what awaits him. It’s a bull’s-eye bigger than a storefront Target logo.
What he doesn’t know, not exactly yet anyway, is who will emerge from four October scrimmages ready and prepared to break out this season.
Holthaus has got some idea — better than an idea — at some positions, including the returning standout guard trio of Sydni Stallworth, Denesia Smith and Erin Peterson. A pair of sophomore transfers in former Chandler-Gilbert guard Bree Cates and former Arizona Christian and Marana High center Moana Hala’ufia bolster the lineup.
But from there, much is up in the air.
The Star caught up with Holthaus to discuss the importance of scrimmages in setting up the lineup. The Aztecs open their season in the Nov. 3 NMJC Basketball Classic in Hobbs, N.M.:
What is the biggest thing you look for in a scrimmage?
A: “Who of the new kids are going to be able to contribute right away? We’re making sure people are settling into positions, and we can experiment a little bit. We’re trying to get them plugged where they should be for the beginning of the season. As things morph forward, they change a little bit. But it’s important to get them in the position of being comfortable. It’s more of a breaking-in time.”
Do you believe positions can be won — or lost — based on a scrimmage?
A: “I was just talking about this yesterday; you can be the best practice player in the world, but the nice thing about a scrimmage is it’s real. The lights come on. If you can’t get it done in a game, it’s not good. Bottom line for coaches, for us as a program, is production. We have to figure out who performs on game day. It’s a good opportunity for us to see who those kids are.”
You’ve been going for a couple of months now, but when do you see it as the season starting in earnest?
A: “Everyone is on campus and going in August, but we recruit heavily locally, so a pretty good chunk is here over the summer, and we’re allowed eight hours a week. We don’t have everbody until school starts. I don’t try to do a lot of teaching until everyone is here. It’s more about them getting a feel for each other, trying to build some chemistry. To me, that’s the key for this stretch the last 10 years. You go in, get a good workout, learn who else likes to work.”
Does September then become the most important month for you? Is it back to the basics, or are you implementing plays and strategy by then?
A: “Basic. It’s a lot of basics. We have a certain style we like to play, and not everybody was taught that in high school. It’s a lot of fundamentals, man-to-man defense. I don’t want to over-coach from August to March, because by March you’re Charlie Brown’s teacher. Wah, Wah, Wah. We keep it basic, work on shooting, defensive positioning. We keep it pretty bland even in October. By the first game, we’ll have everything in. It won’t be as fine-tuned as it will be in March. Kids are different these days. We have to keep them in tune.”
Is winning the key to that? Are you able to get the buy-in because of the results, or is it a challenge every year?
A: “A good thing is we have a good number of returners every year. Half returning, half new. That half has tasted success, and they understand what needs to be done. They’re really good about bringing in new kids and showing them how to get adjusted. It’s a conscious effort to make sure they go from being little sis to big sis. We have to do a good job teaching those kids that it’s their turn to pull the reins. I would say our run of success is because we do a good job of developing leaders.”
Every so often, you get a girl like Sydni Stallworth, and you picture her immediately leading from the start. Does she take on a bigger role in that regard this season?
A: “The biggest thing I guard against is I don’t want her to feel like the pressure of the world is on her shoulders. I think we’re better in a lot of ways this year. I said last year we were the fastest I’ve had; I may have lied, because this year we’re faster. Syd is going to be the anchor, but the one who gets overlooked is Denesia. This is her third year here — her first year here she redshirted with a knee injury — and she’s someone I really look to personally to lead the way. With her and Syd together, you share the burden. I want Syd to embrace the role, but I don’t want her to think that everything we do is based on what she does. That’s not fair to her in a lot of ways, but also not to the team.”