Hailing from opposite sides of the U.S. come good friends and teammates Erik Benzel and Mitch Holda, whose friendship began on the hard courts of Spokane. Benzel was born and raised in Spokane, while Holda comes to Spokane by way of Manns Harbor, North Carolina. Both Benzel and Holda live and work in the Spokane area. Benzel works for SRM Development (a court sponsor!) as a Construction Manager and Holda manages several different restaurants and bars. The two met playing rec ball after college at the old South Hill Oz Fitness Center and have been shooting hoops together ever since. They’ve competed in Hoopfest since 1990, taking a few years off for high school and college commitments, but continue to come back to reconnect with old friends and take another shot at the title. “I want to bring the championship back to Spokane,” says Holda. “I love the crowd, I always run into a great group of guys that I haven’t seen since, well, the previous Hoopfest.”
Erik and Mitch are no strangers to success; they’ve won the Elite Division for 6 footers twice, though their age may have started to factor into their play. “Hoopfest is a tough tournament to prepare for in the 6 foot and over elite, because of the physicality and talent in that division,” says Benzel. In order to keep up with the rest of the field, Benzel has been employing “a combination of strength training, cardio work and plenty of basketball.” Holda agrees, “Lots of stretching!”
Those two championships don’t come without great team chemistry. “Our teams have changed over the years,” says Benzel, “but the one thing that has been consistent is playing with Mitch Holda. There is not a better guy to play with than Mitch. His toughness filters through our teams year after year.”
The action on the court isn’t the only thing drawing Holda and Benzel back to the tournament each year. “Walking downtown Saturday morning and seeing the fans and players roll in for the early games. There is a certain energy downtown that is tough to explain but it brings out the beauty of competitive athletics and community involvement,” says Benzel. “And,” he muses, “I always like to take time and walk by the grade courts to see the young kids playing, reminds me basketball is suppose to be a fun game, which often gets forgotten at the higher levels. I also like to watch the wheelchair division to appreciate the talent and perseverance of those athletes.” And for Holda, he finds the Toyota-sponsored half court shot one of the more entertaining events of the weekend.
Make sure you check out Holda and Benzel at this year’s Hoopfest. And if you’re around their court, keep your eyes open for their lucky charm, Mama Holda. She flew out three straight years when they made it to three straight championship games.
In the wise words of Erik Benzel: “If you live in Spokane and don’t love Hoopfest, go see a doctor, something’s wrong!”
Don’t miss the action – Tip Off starts at 8 AM Saturday morning!
Make sure to find your brackets when they go live next week – hopefully Wednesday evening, June 22.