Cross country, swimming, track state titles signal auspicious year for Bears

Kevin Mays • Jun 1, 2020 at 1:00 PM

BIG STONE GAP — Union may need to add some more room to its trophy case considering all the hardware its sports programs won in the 2019-20 year.

The Bears brought back numerous titles in the fall and winter seasons, including state championships in cross country, swimming and indoor track.


The cross country season was one of domination for Union’s boys, one that culminated with the school’s first VHSL Class 2 team trophy in the sport. All-state runners Nathaniel Hersel, Tanner Cusano and Jacob Mullins were key to the Bears’ state run.

The Union boys also won the Region 2D and Mountain 7 District titles.

Union’s girls captured the Region 2D title behind the fourth-place finish of Sydney Hall, who placed 24th at the state meet.


Hersel won his second state championship of the year when he earned a gold medal at the VHSL Class 2 Indoor Track and Field Championships. He finished first in the 3,200 run with a school-record time of 9:50.76.

Union’s Mason Polier placed second in the state shot put competition with a throw of 48-5.5.


Ashley Cusano showed again why she is one of the best athletes in school history.

Cusano won two state swimming championships, breaking the state record with a gold medal-winning time of 53.92 in the 100 butterfly in addition to winning the 100 backstroke.

The wins gave Cusano, who will swim next season for North Carolina State, seven state championships in her Union career.


Polier won the Region 2D and Mountain 7 District championships and finished third in the 220-pound division at state. Freshman John Satterfield placed third in the state tournament in the 160 division.


Emili Brooks led the Lady Bears to a 24-9 season that included a Region 2D championship and runner-up finish in the Mountain 7. They advanced to the state tournament before the season came to an end in the Class 2 quarterfinals.

Brooks put her name in the VHSL record book with a state-record 1,819 career kills and broke the school mark for kills in a season with 583. She’ll play volleyball next season at Virginia-Wise.


The Lady Bears won their first Region 2D championship and clinched their first trip to the VHSL Class 2 tournament since 2016, capping a 22-6 season that saw them reach the state semifinals.

Jayda Smith, Brooks and Heather Lipps all averaged in double-figure scoring in their senior campaign. Smith averaged 15 points and 9 rebounds per game, Brooks 12 points and 5 rebounds and Lipps 10 points and 4 rebounds.


Union’s youthful squad came up five points shy of advancing to the state tournament, dropping a 66-61 overtime decision to Class 2 runner-up and Mountain 7 foe Gate City in the Region 2D semifinals to close with a 17-10 record.

Three Union players earned spots on the All-Southwest Virginia: junior Alex Rasnick (15 ppg; surpassed 1,000-point career mark), freshman Sean Cusano (13.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Bradley Bunch (12 ppg, 7 rpg).


The Bears (9-3) continued their streak of making the playoffs every year since the school opened and reached the Region 2D semifinals before falling to regional champion Graham.

Polier, who has signed with Virginia-Wise, rushed for 1,808 yards and scored 30 touchdowns plus recorded 130 tackles, three interceptions and touchdown on defenses. He was a Times News All-Southwest Virginia selection on offense and defense.

Offensive lineman Trevor Wagner, defensive lineman Tanner Jervis, defensive back Antwun Jenkins and linebacker C.J. Jones also made the team.


Luke Needham made the All-Mountain 7 and All-Region 2D teams in a rebuilding year for the Bears. He finished 17th individually as the only Union golfer at the state championships.

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