By Stayson Isobe, NAU Media Relations
SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Sarah Neatherton has always been a competitor. A cornerstone for the Northern Arizona soccer program from 2006-09, her competitive drive was key in helping the Lumberjacks win two consecutive Big Sky Tournament championships, despite limited success prior to her arrival.
"I don't think people really appreciated how hard-nosed she was," said head coach Andre Luciano. On the field, she was extremely competitive. She liked to win and she brought a no-nonsense approach to playing. She helped us win two championships and she was a part of a program-changing environment."
These days, Neatherton brings that same competitive spirit into her new career with the Spurs Sports & Entertainment group, which she's been a part of since her graduation from NAU in May 2010.
"She comes to work everyday with a positive attitude and we love her competitiveness," said Tim Salier, senior director of Franchise Business Operations for Spurs Sports & Entertainment. "Being in sales, she competes against herself, but also internally against some of her teammates in a friendly way. She definitely brings it everyday and her ethics are a perfect fit for our values."
Neatherton, a four-year starter and three-time All-Big Sky Honorable Mention at NAU, graduated with a degree in journalism and a minor in electronic media and film. She left the Lumberjack soccer program with the most career matches played and was tied for the most career assists in school history. Although both records were broken last year, she still ranks in the top 10 in career points, assists, shots, game-winning goals and matches played.
A month after graduation, Neatherton joined the San Antonio Spurs as an inside sales representative, starting off in an extensive training program in selling. Although the program typically lasts eight to 10 months before transitioning into a full-time position, she was promoted to her current position of Group Sales Representative in December after just six months.
"Sarah has brought lots of great new ideas and she has a passion for trying new things," Salier said. "She is very strong-willed and she has a desire to succeed. She's been a rising star in every sense of the word."
Despite her job title, Neatherton likes to think of herself as an event coordinator. Selling for all three franchises represented by Spurs Sports & Entertainment – the NBA's San Antonio Spurs, the AHL's San Antonio Rampage and the WNBA's San Antonio Silver Stars – her job includes planning events that include 10 or more people. Part of her job also includes booking national anthems as well as any performance fans would see pregame, at halftime or postgame on the court or the ice.
"My favorite part of my job is the people I work with and the people I get to plan events for," Neatherton said. "Planning events takes a lot of time and during that time I get to know these people. They become my friends and my clients and I have an interest in what they want to do."
Among the many events she's planned, one of her biggest events was the Rampage's Pink in the Rink Night in January. The ice was painted pink in honor of breast cancer awareness, and proceeds from the game went to the San Antonio affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. The game itself resulted in the largest ever attendance for a Rampage game.
During her time in San Antonio, she's had the opportunity to meet Spurs legend and Basketball Hall of Famer George Gervin. As for the current stars of the NBA, Neatherton relishes the moments she has to see the premier players in the game, even if it seems almost routine as part of her job.
"In March, on the 4th and the 6th, we played the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat in the same weekend," Neatherton said. "I don't know when that will ever happen again in my life, to see two of the very best NBA teams play the Spurs. That was a blast. It's interesting though, I can be five feet behind one of the players when I'm working the games and it's not as exciting as people would think because it's my everyday job. I don't even notice it anymore."
Originally from Palm Desert, Calif., Neatherton came to Flagstaff in large part because of the new environment and Luciano's vision of her potential impact on the program.
"I decided on NAU because I wanted to go somewhere where I didn't know anybody," Neatherton said. "I'd never been to Flagstaff and that was a big factor in me leaving Palm Desert. The other huge reason was Andre. When he was recruiting me, I really believed him when he said that I could come to NAU and help a team that was in the process of rebuilding and that I could make an impact here."
As for that decision five years later, Neatherton attributes her time in Flagstaff as a big reason for where she is right now.
"I owe Andre and my teammates more gratitude than they'll ever know," Neatherton said. "What I learned in the classroom was one thing, but what I learned from being an athlete are things you can't teach people in the real world. Teamwork, work ethic, consistency and loyalty to my teammates and my co-workers are all things I learned on the field with Andre and my team. Because of them, I have this job and I really do value all those things that I learned and I miss them all the time."
For all of the success she's having post-college, Luciano isn't surprised one bit.
"She's got a Type-A personality and she was very passionate about the major that she chose," Luciano said. "I knew that once she got into the workforce, any kind of media or sports marketing field would be great for her."
Neatherton was last in Flagstaff a year ago, where she was able to catch an NAU soccer game. Even from her new home in San Antonio, she still remains an avid follower of the program.
"When I'm at work, I'll have my live stats up when they're playing," Neatherton said. "My relationships with the girls still on the team haven't changed and I think that's really special. It doesn't matter where I am, I'm always going to feel close. It's been a tough season so far and I wish there was some way I could help, but there's not. I know they're all trying to help each other."
From standout performer on the field at Lumberjack Stadium to standout member of the Spurs family, Neatherton has gone a long way in a few years.
"Being 23 and working for the San Antonio Spurs, I'm absolutely living the dream job out of college," Neatherton said.