TACOMA — There was a caveat.
But for 2000 South Kitsap graduate Nolan Soete, it was not a large enough obstacle for him to pass on the opportunity to succeed Geoff Loomis as Pacific Lutheran University’s baseball coach.
Soete, who turns 34 in September, said he had to accept an interim position in order to succeed Loomis a day after he was named coach June 10 at the University of Portland. Despite that, Soete was confident enough to resign from his full-time position as a physical education teacher at Lakes High School in order to move into his new role.
“I got the interim tag put on me here, but that was the only way they could hire me so quickly,” Soete said. “I wouldn’t have left a good job at Lakes if I didn’t feel there was a good opportunity to be here for a long time.”
The location is convenient — Soete and his wife Jessica, who teaches at Lakes, live in Lakewood — and the program holds special meaning for him.
Some of that is because Soete almost died in 2002 when he was a student and baseball player at PLU. During the second day of classes — a day after visiting the doctor after enduring shortness of breath while walking upstairs and a racing heartbeat throughout an early September night — Soete was told to leave class because of his low blood counts and was rushed to the emergency room.
Hours after leaving the Tacoma campus, Soete said sight in his right eye began to deteriorate until he was blind. In addition, it turned out, he was bleeding internally and it was clotting.
The doctors initially suspected Soete had leukemia, but after four days of tests they had another diagnosis: aplastic anemia.
It is a condition in which bone marrow does not produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells. In many cases, the cause of the illness cannot be determined.
“It has similar effects to leukemia — my body wasn’t producing its own blood and my immune system was shot,” Soete said. “I needed a bone-marrow transplant to recover.”
Fortunately for Soete, one of his sisters, Jacinda, was a match. Siblings only are perfect matches 25 percent of the time. Soete, who moved into the Pete Gross House, had several setbacks along the way, which included convulsions from antithymocyte globulin, better known as horse serum, leading up to the Nov. 5 transplant.
It was not until the following year — on Feb. 3, Soete was told that 80 percent of his blood cells were his sister’s — that he began to feel better. He also began to regain vision in his right eye.
Soete later moved back to Port Orchard and began preparing to return to baseball by running two miles per day. Despite that, Soete struggled with fatigue upon returning from a redshirt season and finished 2004 season with a .200 average, two home runs and 12 RBI. Soete, who played first base, rebounded the following year to hit .317 with four home runs and 18 RBI.
After the season, Loomis asked him to stay on as an assistant coach.
“Some of the things he had to endure showed his love for the sport,” Loomis said in a 2010 interview. “He’s dedicated to baseball.”
Loomis progressively gave Soete more responsibilities, including the role of recruiting coordinator. PLU athletic director Laurie Turner cited those contributions when she announced Soete’s new role.
“Nolan has been involved in every aspect of the program since he joined the staff in ’06,” she said. “His understanding of institutional culture and his engagement with our current student-athletes and recruits will minimize the disruption to our program.”
Soete shared similar sentiments.
“My main goal at the time after getting announced was to make sure I retained all of the returning players and the recruiting class coming in,” he said.
“We wanted to make — from my standpoint and the administration’s — that the transition went really smooth and quick to make sure the student-athlete experience was maximized.”
Soete takes over a program that experienced success under Loomis, who compiled a 327-197-2 record with the Lutes. PLU won its third Northwest Conference championship and advanced to its second NCAA Regional Tournament appearance during the spring. The Lutes had a 32-14 record and advanced to the final day of the Division III South Regional Tournament.
“The main goal is to continue on the path we’re going on,” he said, adding that he wants to compete for a conference title every year.
That is a level of success Soete’s coach at South — the late Elton Goodwin — achieved. Goodwin had a 491-136 record and won three state championships with the Wolves from 1976 to 2003, but Soete said the lessons he learned from his mentor — some of which he applies to his players — extend beyond success on the field.
“He’s very influential for me,” he said. “He’s probably one of the guys who inspired me to become a teacher and coach. As a player for Elton, you learn a lot about the game — but you learn a lot about relationships. There’s nobody better than Elton at creating a good relationship between players and coaches.
“As a player, you knew Elton cared more about you than just the success you had on the field. He cared about how you did in life and how you did in school. He wanted to make sure you were a good man.”
Now, Soete looks forward to helping his players develop in all aspects of life.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I played here, am a PLU alum and have been coaching here for almost a decade. It was where I wanted to be. I’ve always wanted to be a head coach at this level.
“It’s the best-case scenario for me.”