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From Cyclone to Spartan

Lisa Bishop takes over as head hoops coach of the varsity Lady Spartans
Lisa Bishop is the new head coach of the varsity girls basketball program at Solon High School. Bishop, now a resident of Solon, played college hoops at Iowa State University but spent the last four years in northern Iraq, where she helped establish a youth basketball club. (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– Normally, she would be a Cyclone in Hawkeye country, but now, Lisa Bishop is a Spartan.
Bishop, 33, has taken the reins of the Solon varsity girls basketball team, and prepared to open the 2015-2016 season Nov. 24 at Vinton-Shellsburg.
But it almost didn’t happen.
She was pregnant with her third child, Zeke (now 7 months old) when the position of head coach for the Lady Spartans was brought to her attention.
“At first it was like ‘the timing is not right,’ I was 8 months pregnant,” Bishop said. “But my husband really encouraged me to apply, and if it was supposed to happen, it would happen.”
She was hired in April, replacing former head coach Tony Nicol, who spent three years at the helm of the varsity girls.
In high school, Bishop (then Lisa Kriener) led her hometown Saint Ansgar Saints to a 92-13 record as a four-year starter, with state tournament berths each year. As a senior, she averaged 18.4 points and 8.4 rebounds, shooting 51.3 percent from the floor, and the Saints finished the season as the runner-up in the 2A championship tournament.
As a 6’2” forward/center for Iowa State University (ISU), she had a successful four-year career with a top-20 team under Cyclone Head Coach Bill Fennelly. She was named first team Academic All-Big 12 three consecutive years and was the recipient of the Team Rebounding Award in 2004.
In her junior year, she scored 12 points in Iowa State’s 101-94 double-overtime home win over Lisa Bluder’s Iowa Hawkeyes.
It was at ISU that she met her future husband Andy, and they were married in 2005. She graduated with a degree in art education, and when Andy was accepted into physical therapy school at the University of Iowa, they relocated to Eastern Iowa.
Bishop taught art for three years, first at Columbus Junction and then at Northwest Junior High in Coralville, and coached volleyball and basketball in the Iowa City Community School District at various levels.
She served one year as an assistant varsity coach for West High School and another year as the ninth grade West coach, then coached both volleyball and basketball at Northwest for two years.
When her first child, Zander, was 1 year old, the Bishop family moved to northern Iraq to teach at a Christian school, where they started a youth basketball program.
The move was initially part of an outreach mission through Grace Community Church in North Liberty, but the two ended up staying four years.
“There was obviously a lot of cultural frustration, but we really felt strongly that that’s where God wanted us at the time,” Bishop said. “We didn’t feel like our lives were in danger, or that we were putting our son in danger.”
The family was in Duhok, the capital of Duhok Governorate in Kurdistan, in the far northern region of Iraq, with a regional population of nearly 500,000.
“We felt safe,” she said. “The people there really loved Americans.”
They taught at the Classical School of the Medes, a private, English-based network of schools operating in the Kurdish region that attracted mostly local Kurdish Muslims.
The couple eventually decided to start a youth basketball program in the area with an emphasis on teaching girls the sport.
“They don’t have anything like that there, they don’t have any type of extracurricular activities,” Bishop said. “It was something we were really passionate about.”
The basketball program started with the school, she said, with about 15 boys and 15 girls playing on a dirt court, but the Iowa couple decided to take it citywide, and approached the headmasters at almost all of the public schools to see if there was interest.
They ended up renting a basketball court from a local adult club team and hosted bi-weekly training, offering basketball fundamentals mixed with some life skill lessons.
“That was such an amazing experience,” she said, noting she and her husband still keep in touch with people they met there and would like to visit again some day.
The area is fairly stable now, but the timing of the couple’s departure was somewhat unsettling as members of ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) moved uncomfortably close.
The Bishops left Duhok June 1, 2014, and two days later, ISIS forces were 30 miles south of the city.
“All of the people that were south of us flooded into our city,” she said, swelling the population to 750,000. “Within a week the town that we lived in and called our home for four years completely changed.”
When they decided to return to the United States and settle down, they knew they wanted to be somewhere close to the Iowa City area, near their church in North Liberty, but in a smaller school district.
“So that’s why we picked Solon,” Bishop said.
She’s currently a stay-at-home mom with her three kids (Zander, 6, Zephie, 4, and Zeke), but once they all get to school, she’ll look for a position.
When she was in high school, her art teacher was also her basketball coach. “At that point- I was a freshman in high school– I was like, ‘I want to be an art teacher, and I want to be a basketball coach,’” She said. “That is my dream job.”
After moving to Solon, the varsity girls position opened up, and even though she didn’t feel the time was right, her husband persuaded her to follow her dream.
“My husband Andy (said) ‘When is this opportunity going to come about again? Someone might be hired and they might be here for a really long time. The job’s open now, you should apply for it if this is something you really want to do,’” she recalled.
Her experience in Iraq made her realize that her job was not only to coach a basketball team to success, but to prepare young girls for life beyond high school.
Bishop’s coaching tenure began shortly after Zeke’s birth, with a general team meeting and then a 1-mile bonding run. Throughout the summer, she hosted open gyms and team camps.
“Everything’s been kind of loose up until just over a week ago,” she said.
Since then, the pace has picked up and the team practices are going at full speed.
“They’re working hard,” she said. “They’re doing great.”
Her overall philosophy is to use the gifts that she receives. If she were coaching a college team, she would like to recruit to a certain style, but at the high school level, you play with the cards you’re dealt.
“We have athletes who can run and are strong,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of size.”
They’ll spend a lot of time working on fast breaks and secondary offense off the fast break, with hopefully some press defense to wear the other team down.
Throughout her college career, she played mostly a match-up zone, and she feels comfortable with that.
“We’ll be mixing up a lot of things,” she said. “We’re throwing a lot of things at them and they’ve responded really well.”
Solon has a commitment to excellence, and Bishop sees the desire to succeed reflected in her players. That is unique, she said.
“We have 10 girls who are willing to come every day and give it their best,” said Bishop. “I want it to really be an experience for the whole team, where they all play a role, whatever that looks like, and they remember their season and their time at Solon as a really positive one.”
The Lady Spartans open the season with two road games: Nov. 24 at Vinton-Shellsburg, and Dec. 1 at South Tama, before opening their home slate Friday, Dec. 4, against Marion.