Coming off a top-three finish nationally last season, the Pima College women’s basketball team knew the backs of its jerseys wouldn’t just have a name and number but a massive target.
At 7-1 and winners of six straight, the top-ranked team in NJCAA Div. II seems to be handling it well.
The Aztecs are coming off a 104-34 win over Chandler-Gilbert in which star Sydni Stallworth scored only two points — days after earning her first player of the week honors. It’s that kind of roster diversity that has coach Todd Holthaus feeling good a month into the season.
Holthaus talked to the Star about how his team is handling its lofty expectations:
Entering the season, you knew there was a giant bullseye on your back, but how has the team handled it so far?
A: “I think we’ve embraced it, and that’s been a pleasant surprise. It’s almost like we step on the court, and we anticipate getting the best shot. That’s brought our level of play up. The nice part about this year’s team is we’ve focused in on what we need to do well, so we haven’t been wrapped up too much about how other teams have come out. Have we noticed a big surge against us? I don’t know I’ve seen it, and it’s because this group that’s been starting has done a good job throwing the first punch. We’ve gone on the court and established ourselves.”
When you have a team with so much talent and experience, do you find yourself working more on maintaining that mental edge?
A: “We start five sophomores, including two transfers, so I don’t feel like there is a moment that starts with unfamiliar territory. That serenity going into a game kind of feeds down to the freshmen. The sophomores go out and pave the way and they have done a great job of being leaders. There’s a business approach, a hardhat and lunch-pail approach. I kind of keep waiting for those psychological moments to come.”
Has your approach changed with this team, with so many veteran and impressive players?
A: “I think we just kept things simple, drilled in a lot of fundamentals and defense. (Assistant) coach Jim Rosborough always says the nice thing about defense is defense travels; your shot might not be there, the offense might go south, but the defense will always be there. So we’ve spent a lot of time on that. Offensively, we just have so many options. Bree Cates had a night with 26, a great game against a great opponent. Denesia Smith, last night against a down Chandler-Gilbert, had 20 and Syd had 2.”
How do you spread the ball around and keep everyone happy on a team like this?
A: “Biggest thing you can do is stay humble. We always say that ‘we’ is more important than the ‘me,’ and if we win, good things come to everybody. It’s up to us as coaches to help us recognize who the hot hand is, and then it’s about being selfless. Recognizing it, and feeding that person and saying it can be their night, and the next night is yours. For them to be 19 and 20, to see the selflessness has been fun to watch.”