Boys team finishes third, girls team takes fifth place in Tacoma Dome
TACOMA — The Union Titans are all about trophies this year in high school basketball.
Two teams, two trophies.
The Union boys basketball team bounced back from a heartbreaking loss in the semifinals on Friday to win the third-place game Saturday in the Tacoma Dome.
The team went from devastated to motivated in about 15 hours.
Even though the Titans wanted to play for a state title, even though they wanted a perfect season, they refused to go out on a two-game losing streak.
They get to say they ended the year on a victory, a no-doubt-about-it, 63-49 victory over Glacier Peak. With that, they set a new school record with 27 wins.
The Union girls basketball team had another strong comeback Saturday in its third-place game but did not get the final bucket to go down to force overtime. The Titans fell to Glacier Peak 47-45 to earn fifth place.
Still, the girls program got to the championship semifinals for the first time, played on the final day of the season for the first time, and brought home a state trophy for the first time.
The Titans spent the week rooting for each other, too.
“For both of us to just even being here is a huge accomplishment for our school, our community,” said senior Mason Oberg, who scored 15 points in the loss to Glacier Peak. “We’re just all so proud to be able to represent Union.”
“That was pretty special,” senior Tanner Toolson said after scoring 18 points in the boys’ victory on Saturday. “For the girls, it’s never happened before. It’s a huge achievement. It’s a huge achievement for us, too. It’s a testament to all the hard work we both put in.”
“It’s super special having our boys and girls with the same schedule, almost. I love all the support we got from our school, coming out and supporting both teams,” said Lolo Weatherspoon. “It’s just a crazy experience to be able to do this with your high school.”
The coaches agreed. In fact, Union boys coach Blake Connley noted that girls head coach Gary Mills had been an assistant with the boys team for years. Absolutely, this was a Union celebration all week in Tacoma.
“It was so cool to have a doubleheader yesterday, to have a doubleheader today with our girls,” Conley said. “To see the girls go through the state tournament, and to do our send-off together, it just made it more special. It was kind of cool to have that joint experience.”
The Union boys pretty much clinched that third-place trophy in the first quarter, racing out to a 17-2 lead. The Titans were never in any danger of losing that lead the rest of the game.
Kaden Horn made five 3-pointers and scored 25 points to lead the offense, plus he had five steals on defense.
“I wanted to come out strong and just have fun in this last game,” Horn said. “Yesterday I was off. I just had to come out stronger today and have fun with my teammates for the last time.”
“We had to rally back,” Toolson said, referring to the semifinal loss to Central Valley on Friday that ended Union’s 26-game win streak. “We were all sad. We knew this wasn’t the game we wanted to play in, but we had to rally back. We knew that if we didn’t take care of business, we’d have some regrets. We just wanted to go out with no regrets.”
Toolson, who was named Washington’s Mr. Basketball by the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association, played his final game in Brad Lackey’s jersey, wearing No. 2. Lackey injured his knee in the 18th game of the season and was unavailable for Union’s postseason run.
“Before state, I asked Brad if I could wear his jersey to honor him,” Toolson said. “He’s been my best friend since I moved here in eighth grade. All the work he put in … I felt he deserved to be recognized. I hope I did a good job of that.”
Conley was quite impressed with his team’s performance. The top seed in the tournament, the Titans were crushed after Friday’s game.
“You see a lot of great teams lose in the semis, and they don’t get up for the next game,” Conley said. “This group competes so hard no matter what. It wasn’t just the third-place trophy. They wanted to compete with each other one more time. They are so close. They are such a great group of kids. They wanted to go out on the right note, and they did.
“To play really well today shows their character and their toughness.”
The Union girls had a tough time after their loss in their game. But it was so much more than the result of the game, Mills said.
“They’re not disappointed they got fifth. They’re just sad it’s over,” the coach said.
Glacier Peak led by 10 early in the fourth quarter, but the Titans rallied to tie. Abbey Kaip hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and a drive by Weatherspoon tied it at 42.
After Glacier Peak took the lead again, Weatherspoon had another answer.
“The girls have a lot of heart. We have some real competitors,” Mills said. “You’re never out of it.”
Glacier Peak took a 46-44 lead with a minute to play. Union got a free throw 20 seconds later. Glacier Peak then hit another free throw.
Union’s last shot, a good look down the lane, was blocked.
Still, the girls proudly accepted the fifth-place trophy.
“It’s just crazy. It all goes by so fast,” Weatherspoon said. “Taking it all in and being with my teammates, it’s amazing that we got this far. I’m so thankful I could do it with them. We fought our hardest all the way through the season. I’m just so thankful that we did.”
Years ago, Mills was the head coach for an Evergreen boys team that made it to the dome. He has been here as an assistant with the Union boys, too. Now this.
“I’ve been fortunate to get there a lot. This was unique for me,” he said about coaching the girls. “They will always have a special place in my heart.”
The Union girls made program history.
“I don’t want to act like we’re surprised by it,” Mills said. “At the beginning of the year, we felt we could be one of the better teams in the state. The list of teams that we got through to get here is impressive. I’m just proud of them.”