Boys basketball: Union knows there are no rings for December wins

Titans are cruising through seven games but they are hoping for so much more than regular-season success

VANCOUVER — This is a new mission for the Union Titans. So far, it looks a lot like the old mission, too.

A year ago, the Union Titans went 20-0 in the regular season.

This season, they are 7-0 and winning games by an alarming margin.

The Titans, though, are not focusing on the win-loss record. Instead, they are taking on each day as a way to improve, to prepare for February and, they hope, early March.

A season ago, they started 22-0, but then went 2-3 from there. They got a victory in the state regional round, but lost back-to-back games in the Tacoma Dome.

“The mission this year is we think we can contend for a state championship,” senior guard Brad Lackey said Wednesday after the Titans beat previously unbeaten Evergreen 99-63. “We have proved we can play with anybody. That is an attainable goal. We just can’t get comfortable.”

Tanner Toolson of Union scored a career-high 36 points Wednesday in his team’s 99-63 win over Evergreen. Union improved to 7-0 this season. Photo by Paul Valencia
Tanner Toolson of Union scored a career-high 36 points Wednesday in his team’s 99-63 win over Evergreen. Union improved to 7-0 this season. Photo by Paul Valencia

Tanner Toolson scored a career-high 36 points in the win over Evergreen. 

“We’re trying to get back to the Tacoma Dome, come back from last year, and we’re trying to get a state championship,” Toolson said.

The Titans can contend. They will be trying.

Note the language, the language of experience.

No one is saying state championship-or-bust. No one is expecting a cakewalk to the final four. A year ago, the Titans were No. 1 in the RPI. That ranking did them absolutely no good in the dome.

This year, they have put together another tough schedule. Evergreen, a Class 3A team, beat all the other 4A teams from the Greater St. Helens League this season. Not Union.

And last weekend, Union traveled to Mount Si and beat the Wildcats 68-51. Mount Si finished second in the state last year.

“Last Saturday was a big win, but we didn’t get a ring for that,” Lackey said. “That’s just a great learning experience. We have to keep improving.”

At one point Wednesday, the Titans were up 63-39 in the third quarter, and all five Titans on the floor were playing in-your-face defense, moving their feet, defending that possession as if it were a one-point game in the final minute. 

That is the kind of intensity the Titans will need in league play to get to the postseason.

“We are great on D,” Union coach Blake Conley said. “We are very fast. It’s a different kind of team. It’s fun to see them gel, to see them work together. It’s been fun to see through seven games.”

Union has made it a running clock against five of its opponents. Mount Si was the closest game at 16 points. The Titans controlled the game from start-to-finish Wednesday, then pulled away with a 30-16 fourth quarter for the large margin of victory against the Plainsmen.

Through seven games, the Titans are winning by an average of 41 points.

Toolson checked out of Wednesday’s game midway through the fourth quarter.

“It feels amazing,” he said of his night, which included five 3-pointers. “My teammates found me when I was hot. Wouldn’t be able to do it without any of my guys.”

The Titans will next take on North Kitsap on Saturday at the Highline College Showcase. After Christmas, the Titans will head to the Surf ‘n Slam tourney near San Diego for three games. They will complete the non-league schedule with a home game against perennial power Gonzaga Prep on Jan. 4.

Naturally, the Titans want to remain undefeated.

That is not necessarily the mission, though. Not now anyway. Going 20-0, they learned, does not bring home a trophy.

In fact, if they could only be undefeated for one month, they would prefer to do so in March.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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