Naya Higashijima joijned the Lobo Family who has spent the past four years as an associate head coach at SMU, has been named the sixth head coach of the Lobos Swimming & Diving program. She comes to UNM from SMU where she spent four years as an Associate Head Coach. Higashijima, a two-time NCAA All-American swimmer at Oregon State, has nearly 20 years of Division I coaching experience.
In her four seasons with SMU, the Mustangs finished second at the American Athletic Conference Championships (finishing second in 2020, 2021 and 2022). She also helped oversee 11 individual conference titles along with three relay titles. In 2020, she mentored butterfly specialist Erin Trahan to All-America honors, while flyer Luana Alonso earned an invite to the 2023 NCAA Championships in the 100.
Overall, in four seasons with the Mustangs, SMU swimmers produced 29 NCAA B standards and earned 51 all-conference individual and relay honors.
Prior to SMU, Higashijima spent seven seasons with UCLA including a stint as associate head coach. In her seven seasons with the Bruins, UCLA posted six top-25 NCAA finishes and five top-five finishes at the Pac-12 Championships. In the classroom, UCLA also earned Scholar All-America Team honors.
Individually, she helped guide student-athletes to 53 All-America honors at the NCAA level, while mentoring 13 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifiers, six U.S. National Team members and one Olympian.
Prior to her time at UCLA, Higashijima served as an assistant coach for six seasons at UC Santa Barbara where she worked with both men’s and women’s programs. At UCSB, 13 men and women swam to qualifying standards for the 2008 U.S. Trials, including a pair of semifinalists. Additionally, 12 Gauchos earned All-America honors.
All told, she helped the men’s and women’s teams to seven Big West Conference team championships and the women to a top-25 NCAA finish in 2008.
Higashijima was a two-time All-American swimmer at Oregon State, earning both honors in the 200-yard butterfly. In 2003 she finished eighth in the NCAA Championships in the 200 fly, helping the Beavers to their first top-25 finish in program history. The year prior in 2002, she placed 10th in the event. Overall, while at OSU, she set five individual records and one as part of a relay record as well. Higashijima holds the most number of individual wins in Oregon State history.
A native of Kawaguchi, Japan, Higashijima graduated from Oregon State in 2004 with a degree in liberal studies with a concentration in multi-media communications and a minor in Chinese.
Swimming comes naturally to Naya, who comes from a long line of swimmers. Her father Shinji was a national record holder in the individual medley and currently works for FINA (the Federation Internationale de Natation, the world governing body for several aquatic sports). Naya’s mother Kaoru was a National Champion swimmer in college winning the 200-meter freestyle race all four years she swam. Her brother Issei is a national record holder in the 5k open water race and was the team manager at Michigan in the mid-2000s.
Her other brother Sho was part of the 2010 National Championship basketball team at Pima Community College in Arizona and currently coaches professionally in Japan, where he at one time served as an assistant coach for Alvark, Tokyo. There he coached former Lobo basketball star Alex Kirk. Sho is currently the Head Coach for the Koshigaya Alphas.