In 2004, a hoops player from Tennessee made the trip out west to finish her basketball career at Northern Arizona University. Nearly 10 years later, history repeated itself and Beth Hopper found herself back at home, this time in the school’s compliance office.
“It’s been wonderful to be back; of course, it wasn’t a rough transition like the first time,” Hopper said. “It’s been a smooth transition for me this time. I miss Tennessee, but my parents come out here every so often and I get to go home. I’ve always told people that coming to play at NAU is the best decision I’ve ever made because it really gave me a second home.”
After two years at Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tenn., in which Hopper helped her team to the NJCAA Tournament both years, she contemplated not playing out her final two collegiate seasons. That feeling remained until she visited the NAU campus.
“Initially, I wasn’t going to play my last two years, but then I took my visit here and fell in love,” Hopper said. “I fell in love with the staff, the area and my teammates.”
The move to Flagstaff did not get off to the best of starts, though. Hopper struggled through her first semester as she dealt with the distance between Flagstaff and Tennessee, a 27-hour drive. However, as time passed, the game of basketball and specifically her teammates helped her settle into her new home.
The Lumberjacks elevated their game from a 12-16 record prior to Hopper’s arrival, their fourth losing season in a five-year span, to a 22-11 mark in her final season. The 10-win improvement was not all, as the Hopper finished her two-year NAU career with a Big Sky Championship and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2006. The 2005-06 team remains the lone team in school history to win the Big Sky and earn a bid to the Big Dance.
“I remember beating Montana in Missoula (a 65-60 regular season victory); that gym was at full capacity and there were only a handful of NAU fans sitting behind our bench,” Hopper said. “We went in there and it was by far the loudest arena I’ve ever played in. That stands out very visibly in my mind. But of course I remember playing in Tucson against Baylor (in the NCAA Tournament) and getting to play against a major powerhouse. We weren’t embarrassed and we pulled it together in the second half.”
Hopper would graduate with honors with a degree in Biology in 2006. After her playing days were over, she proceeded to receive her Juris Doctor in 2012 from the University of South Carolina School of Law while also working as a legal writing tutor. She turned her focus to studying for the bar. However, she knew she did not want to pursue something in the traditional legal field and had no intentions of practicing law in court.
She considered nonprofits, but then came across compliance articles on the web. A self-proclaimed sports fan, she immediately knew that was the path she would pursue.
“Being able to use the analytical skills that I learned in law school and put that to use in compliance, it was a natural fit for me,” Hopper said. “I found my niche once I realized what I wanted to do.”
Coming from a student-athlete background proved to be beneficial for Hopper as well as she began as a compliance intern at the University of Tennessee.
“If you’re a student-athlete in college, your focus is on your books and your games that you’re preparing for and you never think about the administration side and everything that goes into making sure you can compete every day,” Hopper said. “Once I got into compliance, I realized what it’s like to be a student-athlete. If something is wrong with their stipend or their eligibility, it gives me a little more patience because I can understand where they’re coming from when they come to me with issues.”
Hopper eventually saw an opportunity to return to Flagstaff, serving as NAU’s Assistant Director of Compliance since February. In a smaller compliance office at NAU less than half the size at Tennessee, Hopper handles issues across the whole spectrum of NCAA legislation from Initial Eligibility Certification to financial aid to interpreting various bylaws.
Now that her story has come full circle, Hopper is thrilled to be back at NAU. She still remains in regular contact with her Lumberjack teammates, and several members of the 2006 championship squad reunited in Flagstaff in the spring to get a glimpse at the current Lumberjack women’s basketball team.
“What I remember most about my career here are my teammates,” Hopper said. “I met some of the most important people in my life. Alyssa Wahl and Kim Winkfield are two of my very best friends and we talk almost every day. If I hadn’t moved out here, I never would’ve met some of my teammates and they’ve really impacted my life. I was lucky to have some of the best people in the world on my team.”