Onetime SHHS star now head coach at University of Puget Sound

Scott Swanson

Of The New Era

Lisa Brocard Kushiyama wasn’t aiming to be a coach when she headed off to Linfield College in 2004 after a career at Sweet Home High School as a stand-out volleyball player and track and field athlete.

In fact, she majored in finance.

But Kushiyama continued competing in those two sports in college, focusing on the long jump and triple in track during her career, which spanned 2004-08.

“I told then-Coach Garry Killgore that I wanted to specialize (in track),” Kushiyama said.

Her background in track, plus a lot of other factors, culminated earlier this month in Kushiyama being named men’s and women’s head coach for track and cross-country at Puget Sound University in Tacoma, Wash., after serving as an assistant last year.

“Lisa’s work with the program this past year earned her great trust and respect among the student-athletes,” said Director of Athletics Amy Hackett. “It became evident in our process that she was the best fit for the position as we look to strengthen our numbers and team performance.”

It’s been a winding road to Puget Sound, starting with the financial collapse of 2008, the year Kushiyama graduated from Linfield.

“That was bad timing,” she said. “The market crashed. There were no jobs.”

At Linfield she’d met Casey Kushiyama, a native of Hawaii, who had played point guard for the Wildcats and then moved on to an assistant coaching position with the men’s basketball team. They were engaged by the time she graduated, Lisa said.

Casey Kushiyama landed a position as an assistant for Whitworth’s men’s team after she graduated, so they moved to Spokane for the 2008-09 season. Though Whitworth finished the season 23-6, winning the NWC tournament championship, before eventually losing in the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament, the sudden departure of the longtime women’s coach at Linfield prompted the Kushiyamas to return to Portland.

In his one season as the women’s interim head coach at Linfield, Casey Kushiyama doubled the program’s win total from the previous season with two Wildcats earning all-conference recognition.

He spent the 2011-12 season as an assistant at George Fox, helping the women’s team piece together an undefeated 25-0 regular season, an NWC tournament championship, and an appearance in the NCAA D-III national championship game. Although losing in the national final to Illinois Wesleyan University, the team finished with a 32-1 record and a final No. 2 national ranking.

At that point, the Kushiyamas decided to move to Walla Walla, Wash., where Casey took a position as lead assistant in the women’s basketball program, which included an undefeated regular season (25-0) in 2013-14, a No. 1 national ranking, and an appearance in the 2014 NCAA D-III national championship game.

Lisa Kushiyama got a job in the development office at Whitman. But when Casey hired on, the school’s athletic director asked if she’d be interested in serving as an an assistant coach for the volleyball team. She was and she did.

“I had coached a club volleyball team in college and I always did the camps throughout the summer,” she said. “I enjoyed the teaching, the coaching side to that, but I didn’t really think it would be a possibility for me.”

After five years at Whitman, Casey landed the head women’s basketball position at Puget Sound and they moved to Tacoma with their two boys, Kai and Keo.

“When we came out here, I knew the volleyball coach really well, but the opportunity on the volleyball side wasn’t there,” Lisa Kushiyama said.

However, she got to know veteran track and field and cross-country Coach Mike Orechia, who had just hired an assistant – who left after the end of the first season.

“I talked more seriously with him,” Kushiyama said. “His background was on the distance side, cross-country. He wanted someone who could help with the sprints and jumps. I had five years of experience in recruiting for volleyball. It was a really good fit for me, to kind of step in at that time.”

Kushiyama, who still holds the Sweet Home school record in the triple jump (35-8), is fourth in the long jump (16-9) and fifth in the 300 hurdles (48.48), served as the Loggers’ head assistant coach for both programs during the 2018-19 year, working primarily with jumpers and sprinters. Her athletes won NWC titles in the men’s triple jump title, 110 hurdles, women’s 800 and the men’s 10,000.

In addition to her coaching duties, Kushiyama oversaw recruiting responsibilities for the program, bringing in the largest class in recent years. 

Meanwhile, Orechia decided to step down. He retired in May.

“He and I had talked earlier in the season about the transition,” Lisa said. “I had been talking with the AD too, and I said I was interested.

“I may not have had as much experience as some other coaches who may apply, but I had the benefit of knowing the athletes and the program. I felt really comfortable with the team, and the other coaches coming back.”

She said she was excited to get the job and she plans to build the program, which is one of the smaller in the NWC.

“We’ve had a really strong distance program in the past – that was our previous coach’s background and his passion. I want to try to keep that, but also build up sprints and field events.

She noted that George Fox, where former Huskies Bethany Gingerich and Lance Hanson are now competing, has “really built up their team” in the last few years.

“Other schools have much larger teams than us. We’ve had some really great individual athletes come out of here, but it’s tough, because we’re a smaller team, to score points as a team. Definitely, my goal, as far as recruiting, is to still recruit high-caliber distance runners, but make sure we’re putting more focus on the rest of the program.”

She said she hopes to double the number of Puget Sound conference champions this coming year.

“I think my style of recruiting is more personal. What I need to start doing is start building relationships with coaches from the area and work from there.”