By Steve Shaff, NAU Media Relations
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Sarah Neatherton is probably the first soccer player signed by the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs and she is looking forward to scoring with her new team when she joins their staff later this month.
Neatherton, a four-year starter for the Lumberjack soccer team, helped the NAU program to unprecedented heights during her career including two Big Sky Tournament titles and the first berths in the NCAA College Cup in school history.
“I knew my whole life I wanted to be in the sports industry but I never knew what part I would end up in,” said Neatherton, who will be among the more than 3,200 graduate and undergraduate students who will receive their diplomas from Northern Arizona University during commencement ceremonies at the Walkup Skydome on May 7-8 in Flagstaff.
Neatherton’s road to the NBA started with an email from athletic academic coordinator Pam Lowie about a sales combine hosted by the Phoenix Suns. Without a job or internship locked up yet, Neatherton applied and attended the conference, falling in love in the process.
“It was really scary for me because I really enjoyed it and was good at it,” said Neatherton. “Everything happened so fast. It is kind of scary to find something you never thought about before and how fast things can change in a matter of months in my life.”
Neatherton, who is graduating with a degree in journalism with a minor in electronic media and film, went through sales training for three days, learning from executives from the eight NBA teams represented. She pitched ticket packages to fans attending a Suns-Clippers game that weekend and made calls for season ticket renewals. At the end of the day, she had eight interviews from all eight teams, receiving offers from the Spurs, Suns, Clippers and Bobcats. She was the equivalent of a first-round draft pick.
“The real strong characteristic about Sarah is how confident she is as a person,” said Head Soccer Coach Andre Luciano. “She can step into any situation. I have watched her mature from a kid to a young, confident women. I think she will be successful in anything she does.”
Neatherton credits her coach and the academic support at NAU from Lowie within the athletics department and her College of Social and Behavioral Sciences advisor Matt Pavich on campus for her success.
“Andre genuinely cares about how we do off the field,” said Neatherton, whose title is New Business Consultant working for the inside sales team for the San Antonio Spurs selling the Spurs and the local AHL and WNBA teams.. “Having that support system around me not just concerned with soccer was really crucial to my experience here at NAU and graduating with above a 3.0 grade point average.”
Neatherton’s says her background in sports as a student-athlete helped differentiate her against her peers in job seeking.
“Dedication and consistency is something Andre has instilled in all of us,” said Neatherton. “I think more than anything being a student-athlete is so valuable in the job market. Honestly I never realized how much it sets you apart from other people. In my interviews everyone asked with their first question, ‘What is it like being a Division I student-athlete?’”
The Palm Desert, Calif., native has found herself in a tough situation lately with the in-state favorite Phoenix Suns currently locked up in a playoff series with her new employer. She admits to carrying two shirts earlier in the week during game one of the series.
Neatherton looks back on her championship experiences the last two seasons as tremendous growth opportunities for both her and her teammates.
NAU faced national power Portland in 2008 on the road in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and lost 6-1.
“I felt like I was at a clinic and I was learning from them,” recalls Neatherton. “I told one girl it was a really nice goal when I am not supposed to be supporting them. You have to go into a game like that against one of the best teams in the nation with the mindset that you might not win this.”
But that game changed the thinking of the team when they faced top-ranked Stanford a year later.
“We really believed we could compete against one of the best teams in the country,” said Neatherton, who was an All-Big Sky honorable mention selection in 2009. “Up until halftime we proved that and it was pretty spectacular. It is so funny how our views and mindset changed after we played Portland. We lost 6-1 but it was such a good learning experience for us. We played Stanford, the No. 1 team in the country, and we had them 0-0 at halftime. It says so much for my team and the future they are going to have.”
The same can be said about Neatherton.