Editor’s note: This story appeared in the Star’s 2019-20 college basketball preview section, which was included with the Sunday, Oct. 27 Arizona Daily Star.
Facing an uncharacteristic slow start last season and with his team in need of something, anything, Pima College women’s basketball coach Todd Holthaus sat with assistant coach Jim Rosborough and strategized.
The plan? Nothing.
There was no team meeting. There was no grand speech.
“He looked at me square in the eyes and said, ‘Stay the course,’ and we did,’” Holthaus said. “We started of the year rough and I think everyone thought Pima was down. We knew we weren’t.”
The Aztecs went on to finish fifth in the NJCAA national tournament, another fine accomplishment in a growing list for Holthaus.
But if last year’s uninspiring beginnings did anything, it convince Holthaus his Aztecs could weather the storm — a storm they could be in for again this year with another tough early slate that features several powerhouse.
The schedule is made tougher by a young roster, as Pima returns just four players from last season.
What the Aztecs lack in experience, though, they make up for in size. Holthaus said this year’s would be one of the “most dynamic teams” he’s had, particularly in terms of length and athleticism. A half-dozen players are within an inch or two of six feet, something Holthaus has never had.
If Pima’s men’s team is lacking in size without a true center returning, the Aztecs’ women have no such issues.
“We’ve tinkered already just in the fall putting all our bigs out there with our point guard (Alyssa Perez),” Holthaus said. “We don’t like to play zone, but we can play a nasty zone if we want to.”
Perez gives the Aztecs a different look at point guard than the score-first mentality employed by Pima’s last two points, JJ Nakai and Sydni Stallworth.
Perez will be joined by sophomore Hallie Lawson and freshmen Melissa Simmons, Sierra Mich’l and Fama Thiam.
Perez said the Aztecs’ size will be both luxury and an opportunity.
“We’re definitely going to surprise people,” Perez said. “We’re underestimated. I don’t think people realize what we have coming. It’ll be fun to surprise some people.”
The Aztecs won’t need to surprise themselves, though.
“We struggled but we trusted in each other and in the coaching staff,” Perez said. “When we saw things turn around, it was exciting to see what had.”