This is all new for the Camas girls basketball team.
This is the norm for the Union boys basketball team.
Both will be representing the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League at their state tournaments this week in the Tacoma Dome.
“It’s a feeling no one has ever felt before on our team,” said Camas co-captain Madison Freemon “It’s really awesome.”
“It’s really cool to finally be part of a program that gets to go to the dome,” added co-captain Emma Jones.
Camas had reached the state round of 16 twice before this season but had never reached the Tacoma Dome until this season. The Papermakers will face Eastlake of Sammamish at 9 p.m. Wednesday in a state elimination game. The winner will advance to Thursday’s quarterfinals.
For Union, the Titans are feeling like the dome is part of their home. This will be the third year in a row the Titans will finish their season in Tacoma, and the sixth time since 2009.
Seniors Keithen Shepard and Cameron Cranston have been key parts of this three-year journey to Tacoma. But they do not take it for granted.
“We’ve been there before but it’s not like it’s an expectation,” Shepard said. “We don’t expect to get there just because we play for Union. We know how much work it takes to get there. That makes it feel more meaningful when we actually get there.”
Cranston, who has already been named the Washington coaches association’s state 4A player of the year, said the Union coaches do a fantastic job of keeping the Titans grounded. No one on the team thinks any of this success is just a given.
“They keep us accountable,” Cranston said, noting that the players are given role sheets to value every player’s contribution to the common goal. “What we expect of each other and what we expect of ourselves and what our coaches expect of us.”
Union, the top seed in the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s new RPI system, will play in the quarterfinals at 10:30 a.m. Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s game between Kennedy Catholic and Glacier Peak. The Titans are already assured of playing at least two games this week.
Because they are accustomed to all of this, the Titans have some traditions. For community work, they always celebrate the week by reading at one of the elementary schools in the Evergreen School District. For basketball, the Titans have at least one practice at the Chiles Center in Portland, to get a feel for basketball in a dome.
The Papermakers have been told that playing in a dome is strange environment for high school basketball players. They are looking forward to experiencing it.
“It’s exciting, but it’s nerve-racking, too,” Jones said. “It’s an entirely different type of floor. The court is bigger. You’re not as close to your fans. But it’s also really exciting.”
As far as traditions go, the Papermakers don’t have any … yet.
“We are leaving a legacy,” said Jones, a senior. “When teams go back to state in the future, hopefully the girls will say, ‘Remember when we did this?’ ”
Camas coach Scott Preuninger had state-level success when he coached boys basketball in Oregon early in his career. When he moved to Washington, he knew where he wanted to be one day.
“One of my goals was to be able to coach at the Tacoma Dome,” Preuninger said. “I just thanked them. I thanked them for giving me this opportunity. I’m excited. I’m excited for the girls.”
The players never lost sight of the goal.
“It’s always been our mindset for the Camas girls program,” Freemon said.
“Just getting there is a big deal,” Jones said. “Now our goal is to get there and play well.”
Camas does not have the luxury of time to truly enjoy this trip … unless the Papermakers win Wednesday. If the Papermakers should lose their first game, their season will be finished. If Camas wins Wednesday, the team will be assured of at least a game Thursday and another on Friday.
If all goes well for the Papermakers, they will get the same feeling the Titans are used to nowadays.
“The two trips to the Tacoma Dome have probably been my best high school memories,” Shepard said. “Just being in that atmosphere.”
Growing up the son of a coach, Cranston said he always knew the allure of the Tacoma Dome.
“Being able to get there for the first time (as a player), it was so surreal,” Cranston said. “I was just enjoying being there. … The bright lights.”
The ultimate goal for both teams is to make it Saturday’s trophy games.
Union is used to advancing to the final day of the season, and Camas hopes that it will become a tradition for its program, as well.