The local sports landscape was dominated by these faces in 2016. Here's a look at the top 16 difference makes in Seattle sports.
Doug Baldwin, Seahawks receiver
Baldwin signed a four-year, $46 million contract extension in June that served as final confirmation of his rise from undrafted rookie free agent in 2011 to one of the NFL’s most productive receivers. Baldwin also took on an added profile in the fall when he spearheaded the Seahawks’ Building a Bridge effort — which led to them linking arms during the national anthem before games — and later spoke in Olympia about ways to improve training for police.
Jennifer Cohen, UW athletic director
A Tacoma native, Cohen grew up going to UW football games, idolizing Don James and dreaming of one day working for the Huskies. After 18 years in various roles at UW, she was promoted to athletic director in May, becoming the only female AD in the Pac-12 and one of only three among Power Five conference programs.
Edwin Diaz, Mariners reliever
The Mariners’ 2015 minor-league starting pitcher of the year was asked to convert to a relief role to fast track his path to the big leagues. By the end of the season, he had saved 18 Mariners games and solidified his grip on the closer’s job. Blessed with a fastball that can touch 100 mph and a biting slider, the 22-year-old right-hander wowed fans with dominating strikeouts and power stuff despite his slender frame.
Markelle Fultz, UW guard
The 6-foot-4 freshman from Marlboro, Md. — who was rated the nation’s No. 3 recruit by Scout.com, No. 5 by Rivals and No. 7 by ESPN — is the highest-ranked recruit to play for the Huskies. He has lived up the hype, leading the Pac-12 and Division I freshmen with a 23.2 scoring average. He’s the only player in the nation averaging at least 20 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists.
Nicolas Lodeiro, Sounders midfielder
A midseason arrival from Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors, the Uruguayan playmaker immediately transformed Seattle’s season. The Sounders lost just twice in 14 regular-season games following Lodeiro’s arrival and the promotion of longtime assistant Brian Schmetzer to coach, sparking the surge that would end in the team’s first MLS Cup championship. Lodeiro was named the MLS Newcomer of the Year.
Gabe Marks, WSU receiver
Marks etched his name in WSU’s record book — he owns career marks for receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns — and became the Pac-12’s all-time career receptions leader in his senior season. But he’ll be missed just as much for his unique personality. Confident, eloquent and similar to WSU coach Mike Leach in his tendency to always say whatever is on his mind, Marks was one of the strongest personalities in WSU’s locker room and one of its biggest stars on the field.
Jordan Morris, Sounders forward
The Mercer Island native signed with his hometown club to much fanfare in January, stiff-arming interest from Werder Bremen of the German Bundesliga to become the highest-profile Homegrown Player signing in MLS history. Morris failed to score in his first five Sounders appearances, but he finished with 12 goals and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year. In the Western Conference finals, he played through a stomach bug to net the goal that sent Seattle to its first MLS Cup final.
Mike Neighbors, UW women’s basketball coach
In his fourth season, Neighbors has amassed a 70-35 record while elevating Washington into a Pac-12 powerhouse. He guided the Huskies to their first NCAA tournament Final Four last season. This season Washington is ranked No. 9 — its highest ranking during the regular season since 1998.
Chris Petersen, UW football coach
He could have gone just about anywhere in college football. He chose to come here three years ago and start over, rebuilding the UW football program piece by piece, and here the Huskies are, back in the national conversation, back on top of the Pac-12, in the College Football Playoff for the first time. Ten years after leading Boise State over Oklahoma to one of the greatest upsets in college football history, Petersen will try for another major upset against No. 1 Alabama in the Dec. 31 Peach Bowl.
Kelsey Plum, UW guard
What a year for Plum, a 5-foot-8 senior from Poway, Calif., who broke the UW and Pac-12 all-time scoring record. She averaged 25.9 points during the 2015-16 season and carried the Huskies to the NCAA tournament Final Four. This season, Plum leads the nation with a 30.3 scoring average. She’s on pace to break the NCAA women’s career scoring mark of 3.393 held by Southwest Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles.
Michael Porter Jr., Nathan Hale forward
The five-star UW recruit, rated No. 2 in the nation for the Class of 2017 by ESPN, is the most-discussed player in the state as his arrival (and that of his brother Jontay) made Nathan Hale, normally an afterthought in the Metro League, a favorite to win state. He had 44 points and 20 rebounds in his debut.
Megan Rapinoe, Reign midfielder
Rapinoe spent the first half of the year sidelined because of a knee injury, and in fact she gained more notoriety for what she did off the field in 2016 than any of her efforts on it. Still shaking off the rust from that long injury layoff, Rapinoe didn’t look herself as the U.S. team was upset in the quarterfinals of the Olympics by Sweden. She made just five appearances for the Reign all season as the club failed to reach the NWSL playoffs for the first time since 2014. Those were mere footnotes to her decision to kneel during the national anthem in support of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, earning admirers and detractors in equal measure.
John Ross III, UW receiver
After missing the 2015 season following two knee surgeries, the junior wide receiver from Long Beach, Calif., returned to become the most valuable player of the Huskies’ offense (as voted by teammates) an the Pac-12’s offensive player of the year (as voted by The Associated Press). Perhaps the fastest player in program history, Ross enters the Peach Bowl with 16 touchdown receptions this season, one shy of Mario Bailey’s 25-year-old Pac-12 record.
Richard Sherman, Seahawks cornerback
Long one of the most dependable Seahawks, Sherman became maybe the most enigmatic in 2016. He again was stout on the field and often entertaining off it, such as when he dressed as Harry Potter for a Halloween-week news conference. But he also lobbed almost weekly volleys at the NFL or its officials and twice lost his cool on the sideline during games, directing tirades at coaches. He was unhappy with a miscommunication that resulted in a touchdown against Atlanta and then with an offensive play call in a win over the Rams. He followed the latter with a news conference that ended with a threat to “ruin’’ the career of a local radio host. He quickly apologized on Twitter, but it all left some longing for the days when the only person he seemed to be mad at was Michael Crabtree.
John Stanton, Mariners CEO
For the first time since 1992, the Mariners had a new ownership group with a new chief executive officer. Stanton led a group of minority owners to take control of the franchise after Nintendo of America decided to sell its majority share. A local business icon that made his wealth in the cellular communications business, Stanton took over a franchise that has the longest current playoff drought in Major League Baseball.
Breanna Stewart, Storm forward
After leading Connecticut to a fourth consecutive NCAA women’s championship, the 6-foot-4 forward became the only player — male or female — to be named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player four times. Stewart compiled a 151-5 record at UConn before the Storm took her No. 1 overall in the WNBA draft. She was an immediate star who averaged a team-high 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds while winning the WNBA Rookie of the Year award and helping Seattle snap a two-year postseason drought. Stewart also was the only rookie on the U.S. team that won a gold medal in the Rio Olympics.