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Union boys soccer team is exceeding expectations en route to 7-0 start

Titans top 4A GSHL foe Camas 2-1 in OT to remain undefeated going into break

By Will Denner, Columbian staff writer
Published: March 29, 2024, 1:16pm
8 Photos
Union's Caleb Putney, center, goes up for a header between Camas' Shiven Friedeman, left, and Travis O'Hara during a 4A Greater St. Helens League boys soccer match on Thursday, March 28, 2024, at Union High School.
Union's Caleb Putney, center, goes up for a header between Camas' Shiven Friedeman, left, and Travis O'Hara during a 4A Greater St. Helens League boys soccer match on Thursday, March 28, 2024, at Union High School. (Will Denner/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

What the Union boys soccer team may lack in top-end talent, the Titans have made up for with their conditioning and work rate so far this season.

That premise was put to the test in the Titans’ rivalry game Thursday against Camas, a matchup of two undefeated 4A Greater St. Helens League teams.

Union’s Caleb Putney drew a foul against Camas inside the penalty box with five minutes to play in regulation, and Canaan Moore converted the game-tying penalty kick to send the game to a golden-goal overtime.

Adding 10 extra minutes on to an already physically taxing game favored Union. In the second OT period, a Camas clearance bounced toward Putney, who fired a shot from 25 yards out through the hands of the Papermakers’ goalkeeper into the net, clinching a 2-1 win for Union.

“What I challenged my kids tonight (to do) is, are you going to be willing to do the extra work?” Union coach Jason Moore said. “Are you willing to get in on tackles, are you willing to chase down balls, are you willing to just throw your body to the wind? And they did. I’ve been hard on a couple kids, in particular. Tonight, Caleb Putney was the difference-maker for us, and I hope he found himself a little bit.”

Putney, a senior who’s committed to Northwest Nazarene, moved with his family to Clark County prior to his junior year after playing at Mead High School in Spokane. Until Thursday, he hadn’t experienced a win with Union against Camas. That was motivation enough.

“That game was definitely the most challenging we’ve had so far and we had to work the hardest,” Putney said. “Each of our player’s aspects of the game had to be at their best. … Since I moved here, we’ve never beat Camas and that’s always been our rivals. I just went into game wanting to win, hoping not to lose.”

Camas (4-1-2, 1-1 4A GSHL), which held a 1-0 lead for 30 minutes of the second half after Luke Jones converted a PK, won the league title last season after earning a win and draw against Union.

But the Titans had more success in the postseason by reaching the Class 4A state quarterfinals as the No. 13 seed before losing in penalty kicks at Davis of Yakima.

The end of the season signaled the beginning of a new era as a handful of talented seniors graduated including Garik Shevchuk, the 4A GHSL Player of the Year, and first-team all-league players Ethan Voves and Ivan Cheburakov.

In the offseason, Union players went the extra mile to work themselves into shape with workouts over the summer, morning workouts before school in the winter, then ramped up to the season with fitness training beginning in January. All combined, it’s translated into a Union squad with a high work rate and the main reason behind the team’s early success, Putney said.

“Going into the season, our coach was telling us, ‘we have to be the most fit on the field every game,’ and so far we’ve out-worked every single team,” Putney said. “I think that’s the main cause of our victories.”

After Thursday’s win, Union improved to 7-0, including 2-0 in the 4A GSHL. The Titans have outscored opponents 28-3 over that stretch.

“Never anticipated that,” Moore said of the team’s 7-0 record. “Coming into tonight’s game I thought we’d maybe be 4-2 or 3-3, and I was going to be OK with that, because I knew we didn’t have the talent we’ve had in years past. … In preseason they worked their butts off, they challenged each other to work hard and this is probably the fittest group I’ve ever had. They are fit. They can run. And it’s translated into their play.”

Yet even the fittest of teams need rest. Union will get some valuable off time during next week’s spring break, then return to play on Tuesday, April 9 against Skyview in another 4A GSHL game. For now, the Titans stand alone atop the league standings.

“This group works hard, they play together, they play as a unit and they’ve turned out to be a really fun group to work with,” Moore said.

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