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July 5, 2020

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Union boys ready for league after a magical non-league season

High schools: Tim Martinez

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published:
2 Photos
Union's Tanner Toolson drives against Evergreen on Wednesday night.
Union's Tanner Toolson drives against Evergreen on Wednesday night. Photo Gallery

It’s hard to imagine the Union boys basketball team having a better non-league season.

Let’s run down the list of the Titans’ accomplishments in the first five weeks of the season.

  • They have won all 12 games.
  • They have wins over both 2019 Class 4A state finalists.
  • They have averaged 85 points a game.
  • Their 12 wins have come by an average of 35 points.
  • They won a holiday tournament championship.
  • One of their players broke the school record for 3-pointers in a game.
  • They are the No. 1 team in the state according to the WIAA’s RPI rankings … by a substantial margin.

The only thing that could have made that start of the season any better is if the Titans had managed to squeeze in a trip to Disneyland.

No, wait. They did that too.

To race out to their 12-0 start, the Titans have implemented their version of the Fast Pass.

“I’ve been really impressed at how the guys have bought into a new approach we are taking this year,” Union coach Blake Conley said. “We’re bringing pressure and playing faster. We’ve always played fast, but this year we’re going even faster. The guys have accepted that this is how we can be successful.”

Union is not particularly big. The biggest the Titans go is 6-foot-5 with seniors Tanner Toolson, Mason Hill and Connor Flannigan.

But they are athletic. They can get up-and-down the floor.

They pressure the ball all over the floor, creating turnovers and transitional baskets.

“We’re a really athletic team,” Toolson said. “We like to get out in the lanes, get some steals early, and set the tone offensively, too.”

In the half-court set, they are in constant motion, driving hard to the basket, kicking the ball out to accurate shooters.

“And we have the depth to keep sending guys at you,” Conley said.

Toolson is the leader, averaging 21 points a game. Co-captain Brad Lackey was the tournament MVP during Union’s trip to the Surf ‘N Slam in San Diego, setting school records for 3-pointers (11) and points (40) in game in the Titans’ title-game win over Franklin of Elk Grove, Calif. Kaden Horn, who comes off the bench, has three games of 20 points or better.

The trip to San Diego was a positive one in ways beyond just the wins and team bonding. It helped the Titans get ready for another possible trip to the Tacoma Dome, site of the state tournament.

“We played three games back to back against good teams,” Conley said. “We had games at 10 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. in empty gyms. But sometimes when you get to the dome, you’ll face that too. It was a good experience for us to stay focused and keep the intensity up, even when you don’t have a crowd cheering you on.”

Next comes 4A Greater St. Helens League play, which starts Tuesday at Camas. The Titans host Kaden Perry and the Battle Ground Tigers on Friday.

“Every team in our league is good, and we can get beat by anyone,” Toolson said. “We just have to remain focused and keep getting better.”

The big matchup looms on Jan. 21 against Skyview. The Storm had almost as impressive a preseason as the Titans, posting a 10-2 record and coming in at No. 5 in the state’s RPI.

But the Storm just didn’t go to the happiest place on earth.

“It was just a good time hanging out with the guys,” Toolson said.

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538, tim.martinez@columbian.com or follow him on Twitter @360TMart.

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