Homegrown hire: Former assistant Sueda takes reins of UHH softball program

  • SUEDA

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Aisha Sueda – hitting balls to Vevesi Liilii during a drill – has worked in the background the past four seasons as a UH-Hilo softball assistant under Callen Perreira. Sueda jumped to the forefront of the Vuls’ braintrust Thursday after being named the seventh coach of the program

It took almost a month to find retired UH-Hilo softball coach Callen Perreira’s replacement, but the best candidate was under everybody’s noses all along.

Assistant coach Aisha Sueda was promoted to the top job on Thursday, becoming the seventh head coach in the history of the program.

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Sueda, 30, checks off all the boxes. She’s a 2008 Hilo High graduate, played for the Vulcans from 2009 to ’12 as a four-year starter at second base, and worked her way to first-team All-PacWest honors as a senior.

“These past few years, I’ve enjoyed my coaching role,” she said. “I thought now is my chance and threw my name in there.”

She served as a volunteer coach in 2012 and became an assistant in 2018, so when new recruits ask her about the Vulcans or Hilo she can easily fill them in.

If opposing coaches use her youth against her, Sueda can counter that makes her relatable to her players. She knows what TikTok is and understands Twitter.

She can then point to her assistants like Fred Entilla, who has been on the staff since 2000; Tracy Miyashiro, who has strong ties to the softball community during his time with the Nobu Yamauchi RBI program; and Joey Estrella, who was the UHH baseball coach for 37 years and has been a softball assistant for five years.

The first order of business is to connect with her players. Yes, Sueda knows the best way to hit up her players is on Twitter to tell them to get in shape for fall training to start in August.

Her parents, Russell and Lori Sueda, volunteer at the food concession stand for Hilo High games, so the new UHH coach already has a community support staff, a huge key a mainland candidate would not have.

How about recruiting, the lifeblood of any program?

No worries there. She can turn to Perreira, who’s an instructor at Z Cages in Nevada, one of the top training centers in the state. His best players will head to Division I programs, but Sueda has a shot at getting the next group.

There’s also Kristy Odamura, who is in the UHH Hall of Fame. She coaches the Las Vegas Blast 18U club team and is an assistant at Bishop Gorman High. If Perreira doesn’t coach the state’s best players, then Odamura does.

Odamura’s old teammate and fellow Hall of Fame member is Melanie Hipwell, who lives in San Diego and coaches her daughter’s 9-year-old team. So Sueda will have Nevada and San Diego covered.

What about Oahu?

Sueda – the first female head coach at UHH since Tina McDermott left the tennis program in 2018 – has that covered, too, with Leo Sing Chow, the former Vulcans pitcher and current Kamehameha-Kapalama coach. That’s the benefit of being a former Vulcan and local girl, the ties run forever for Sueda in so many ways.

“Leo is coaching on Oahu, and I’ll look to bring in local talent,” Sueda said. “I’m looking forward to giving coach Callen a call to get his feedback and suggestions, what needs to be done, and look to him for guidance.”

When she recruits, Sueda can tell her prospects what playing for the Vulcans is like, what the culture is like and what Hilo is like. For the players who fall in love with the island and want to live here, she can help them in that way, too. She can also point out the best local eating spots and scenic destinations.

Sueda graduated from UHH in 2013 with a kinesiology degree and earned a civil engineering degree from UH-Manoa in 2016. She works as an engineer with the Department of Transportation.

It’ll be a transition season for the Vulcans, who went 19-13 and lost in the NCAA West Regional to nemesis Concordia. They also lose their best players and pitchers in shortstop Kiarra Lincoln and center fielder Vevesi Liilii, and right-handers Valerie Alvarado and Leah Gonzales as well as second baseman Darian Obara, catcher Markie Okamoto and outfielder Kamalei Labasan.

One of the best things about Perreira was how he cared for his players. Sueda played for him for a year and saw that as an assistant.

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“It was about the Aloha spirit, always, to make sure the team and coaching staff were united as one,” she said. “I definitely kept that in mind from him. What I want to express to the players is that Hilo is a tight-knit place, and we’re there for each other.”

When Hipwell married Travas Brandt in 2010, Perreira and Entilla attended her wedding. Now, Hipwell will be a recruiting source in San Diego. And how knows? Maybe 9-year-old Claire will follow in mom’s footsteps and play for the Vulcans one day, under Sueda to continue that Vulcan for life connection.

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