2015 has been a legendary year for the Whatcom County sports scene — one that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Not so much because of what happened on the field, though that, too, has been as impressive as always.
What made 2015 special were the legendary sports figures who announced their retirements in 2015 — household names, such as legendary Sehome baseball coach Gary Hatch, former Ferndale High School football legend Jake Locker and longtime Ferndale coach and athletic director Vic Randall.
“You sit and wonder when is that time, and together my wife and I have decided we got some things on our bucket list we’ve took a look at and want to do before we get too much older,” Hatch said in announcing his retirement after 42 years.
Locker’s announcement was definitely the most surprising, as it came after only four injury-plagued seasons with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans.
“Football has always played a pivotal role in my life and I love the game, but I no longer have the burning desire necessary to play the game for a living,” Locker told NFL.com.
On the field, Whatcom County continued its usual level of excellence.
No fewer than seven county high school teams won state titles in their respective classifications in 2015 —the Lummi boys’ basketball and boys’ track and field teams, the Lynden Christian girl’s track and volleyball teams, the Sehome girls’ tennis and boys’ cross country teams and the Squalicum girls’ soccer team.
Two others — the Lynden Christian boys’ basketball team and Lummi football team — played in their respective state championship games, while the Sehome girls’ cross county, girls’ track and field, boys’ swimming and boys’ tennis, Squalicum girls’ swimming and Mount Baker girls’ wrestling teams all finished runners-up during their state championships. Dozens of others had plenty of success this year.
Add in a pair of national semifinal appearances by the Western Washington University women’s soccer and volleyball teams and another postseason appearance by the Bellingham Bells, and it’s no wonder 2015 was such a legendary year.
A look at the top 10 Whatcom County Sports stories of 2015, as selected by the Sports staff of The Bellingham Herald:
1. ‘Mr. Mariner’ retires
Legendary Sehome baseball coach and teacher Gary Hatch announced his retirement on June 2, bringing to an end his 42 years of dedicated service. He left with a 532-274 record, which placed him sixth among Washington state baseball coaches. The Mariners also won three state titles under the Washington State Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer in 1983, 2007 and 2008, played in the championship game six times and advanced to state 18 times. The county sent him out in style with a special ceremony June 29 at Joe Martin Field.
2. Differences lead to Trjoan War
One day before it was scheduled to play a non-league football game against Squalicum, Meridian announced that it had forfeited the game on Sept. 11 to allow the team to deal “with some internal issues at the school,” coach Bob Ames, above, said. The move came after several players reportedly walked off the practice field in a disagreement with the coaching staff. The differences were ironed out, and players returned to practice on Sept. 15. The Trojans responded by scoring a 49-14 victory at Chelan and advanced to the first round of the Class 1A State Playoffs.
3. Locker’s fire burns out
After just four years with the Tennessee Titans and numerous injuries, former Ferndale High School and University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker announced his retirement, saying March 10, “I no longer have the burning desire necessary to play the game for a living.” Locker, who graduated from Ferndale in 2006, was the No. 8 overall selection by the Titans in 2011, but was never able to play a complete NFL season because of injury. In 30 career appearances, he completed 57.5 percent of his passes for 4,967 yards, 27 TDs and 22 interceptions.
4. Roundball rules
Whatcom County sent 10 boys’ and girls’ basketball teams to the regional round of the state tournaments. The Lummi boys highlighted championship weekend, completing a 27-0 season with a 54-33 win over Neah Bay on March 7 to claim the first Class 1B state title in school history. Sophomore Trazil Lane, above, led the way for the Blackhawks, averaging 18.2 points per game and earning 1B Player of the Year honors. The Lynden Christian boys (second), Sehome boys (fourth), LC girls (fourth), Squalicum boys (fifth) and Lynden girls (sixth) also brought home hardware.
5. Schleimer runs wild
The Mount Baker junior may still be running, after he smashed the state’s single-game rushing record in an unforgettable game against Nooksack Valley on Sept. 25. Schleimer rushed for 515 yards on 21 attempts, including touchdown runs of 35, 77, 55, 37, 78 and 75 yards. His effort broke the three-year old state record previously held by Eisenhower’s Branden Curtis by 27 yards. Schleimer wasn’t just a shooting star, as he helped the Mountaineers reach the Class 1A State Quarterfinals for a fourth straight year and was selected first-team All-State after rushing for 2,511 yards and scoring 36 TDs.
6. Lyncs become legendary
An inspirational speech from coach Kim Grycel during the Class 1A State Semifinals helped re-focus the defending champs and inspired them to come from behind to beat Kalama in five sets on Nov. 14. The Lyncs went on to beat Cedar Park Christian in straight sets, 25-20, 25-19, 25-21, to repeat as state champions on Nov. 14. The Lyncs’ Kara Bajema, above, who had 118 kills, 33 digs and eight aces in LC’s four matches in Yakima, was selected Most Valuable Player of the Tournament, while Carli Tjoelker was selected to the All-Tournament Team and Grycel was selected Coach of the Year.
7. The perfect Storm
Think the Squalicum girls’ soccer team was dominant in its run to the Class 2A state title in 2014? That was nothing compared to 2015. Squalicum outscored opponents by a combined total of 102-4 in running their record to a perfect 23-0-0. Forwards Kim Hazlett and Kim Dorr combined to score 66 goals and 31 assists. The Storm rolled 4-0 over Ridgefield in the Nov. 21 state championship game, with Hazlett, above, scoring the game’s first goal 38 minutes in and Dorr adding a pair of scores to put the game and the back-to-back titles away.
8. Lummi comes close
The 2015 season started off very un-Lummi-like, with low numbers in uniform and two losses in the first six weeks of the season. But the Blackhawks started to get players back and got on a roll that carried them to their first win over rival Neah Bay since 2011 in the Class 1B state semifinals on Nov. 27. One week later, the Blackhawks had a shot to claim their second state title in program history. But miscues and a fourth-quarter, 99-yard drive by Almira-Coulee-Hartline resulted in a heartbreaking 46-42 loss in the championship game on Dec. 4.
9. Squalicum breaks through
Before 2015, the Squalicum baseball team had never been to the state tournament. In fact, the Storm hadn’t had all that much success at all. But on May 16, the Storm beat crosstown rival Sehome 4-0 in a Class 2A Northwest District winner-to-state game to advance to the Sweet 16. Squalicum wasn’t done there, as the Storm beat Sequim and Anacortes in the May 23 regional at Joe Martin Field to advance to the 2A state semifinals. But the magic ran out there, as traditional power Selah beat Squalicum 6-3 on May 29, but the Storm rebounded to claim third a day later.
10. Snowed out
A relatively dry and warm winter not only hurt the Mt. Baker Ski Area, it wrecked havoc on the county’s signature sporting event, Ski to Sea. With not enough snow to stage its traditional first two legs, the race had to come up with other plans. But implementing those proved difficult, and it wasn’t until less than two weeks before race day that final plans for two new legs — a mountain biking leg to start the race and a mountain biking leg to finish it — were announced. The race went off surprisingly well, and Aeromech claimed the title.