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Tara Schwager
Tara Schwager runs through an opponent on the way to the ball. Schwager played Griz soccer from 2001 to 2004, and also ran track for the University of Montana.

Tara Schwager has been having more trouble lately finding time to place soccer.

That’s because she’s on the road more than ever promoting shoes for Brooks Sports.

Schwager, not unlike a lot of graduating students, wasn’t sure what was going to happen next when she finished five years, a major in organizational communications and a minor in nonprofit administration at the University of Montana.

But partly on the advice of former Griz track athlete Jenni Nelson and mostly on her own initiative she applied to Brooks Sports, thinking how great it would be to work for an athletics-related company.

She already had moved to Seattle. Brooks is headquartered in Bothell, a suburb. She applied through the company Web site, was hired, and started working as a territory representative, helping sales reps with all of their accounts in specialty running stores. She also had direct contact with college coaches along the West Coast.

About four months ago she moved into the Brooks marketing department as an events coordinator for the company-sponsored Rock N Roll Marathon series, the first one of the year last month in New Orleans and the next one in March in Dallas.

“We travel to each one of these events and are part of the expo, pretty much putting up a (Brooks) store at the events,” Schwager explained.

She definitely has made use of her organizational communication major in both jobs at Brooks.

Her efforts to play soccer also are tied to Brooks Sports, where co-workers - some former college players and others just passionate about sports and competing - have put together a co-ed recreational league team.

With spring afoot, her soccer activity will pick up again, at least when she’s home.

Schwager actually came to UM on a combined track/soccer scholarship. But after one year in Missoula coach Betsy Duerksen suggested that she concentrate solely on soccer.

“I was okay with that because it was very difficult doing two sports,” Schwager said, noting that track and spring soccer happen at the same time.

“I would go from track practice to play soccer,” she added. “There was one weekend (in Spokane) when they dropped me off at the hotel (where the soccer team was staying).”

In other words, she competed in a track event at Eastern Washington, then a soccer match at Gonzaga.

Once the change was made Schwager didn’t anticipate going back to track at UM. But after her senior soccer season in 2004 assistant track coach Harry Clark asked her to come back for another season.

Schwager, who ran the 4-by-100 and 4-by-400 meter relays and eventually the 400-meter hurdles, had finished up her chosen degree, so she used the 2005-06 school year to pick up a minor in non-profit administration.

As it turned out, UM’s 2006 4-by-400 meter relay team won at the Big Sky Conference championships and qualified for NCAA regional competition, an extra bonus for sticking around another year.

“It was nice to have a change and learn more stuff,” Schwager said.

As a prep athlete at Boise, Idaho’s Timberline High School Schwager competed in track, soccer and basketball. But when it came to pursuing a college scholarship she was through with basketball.

“I was all about soccer,” Schwager pointed out, noting that she started playing the game when she was about 4 years old and got into club soccer at 10.

Schwager said soccer and track complement each other in many ways. There’s plenty of running in both, and she enjoyed soccer as a team sport and the individuality of track.

Schwager played three seasons for Duerksen, who retired from coaching after the 2003 season. And while it was difficult going through a coaching change Schwager said she owed a lot to both Duerksen and her replacement, Neil Sedgwick.

“My favorite year was my senior year ‘cause I learned so much from Neil,” Schwager said. “He spent a lot of time with us individually and taught us our strengths and encouraged us, and we were building on that. I learned a ton from him.”

Schwager had plenty of options when it came time to pick a college. She took visits to Northern Arizona, Idaho and a school in Louisiana along with home-town Boise State. But she was sold when she went to Montana, despite her parents’ desire to have her stay home.

She also was in touch with coaches at Oregon and Oregon State but didn’t make official visits there.

“I really, really, really like the campus,” Schwager said of her UM trip. “And it was close enough to home but far enough away. I definitely wanted to go out of state. That was my big thing.”

Schwager made the all-conference second team as a sophomore and first team as a senior when she also made the league all-tournament team.

Her name is scattered through the UM record book. She’s in the top 10 in career assists, assists per game, game-winning goals and shots taken, first in single-season game-winning goals with three in 2004, and tied with McKenzie Zajonc for the most assists at UM in 2002 with three.

But just being part of the team was the big deal for Schwager.

“You go into college, and I did not know a single person at Montana,” she explained. “Going there for pre-season you meet all the girls on the soccer team and obviously there’s an instant bond. The friendships were my highlights.”

Schwager stays in close touch with former teammates like Lindsay Winans, Stephanie Davis and Kelly Fullerton.

“My senior year I really had a good time,” she said. “Neil helped build my confidence to show me that I could score more goals, attack more, and this and that.”

Schwager initially struggled with what she would do next when she finished school in 2006 without soccer and track to fall back on.

“I would never take back going to Montana,” Schwager said. “I absolutely loved it. The school is great, and being a part of sports helped me on the job preparing me, because I was never able to have a real job besides soccer camps.”

Doing a job interview was scary, but Schwager said it would have been even tougher had it not been for the confidence building provided by coach Sedgwick.

“I was able to stand tall and go into the interview knowing, ‘I can do this, and this is what I want so I’m going to go for it,’” she said.

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