BALTIMORE, MD — The last time Virginia Union walked off the floor in Baltimore, it did so with a runner-up trophy after losing to Fayetteville State.
VUU senior forward and newly-minted CIAA Player of The Year Robert Osborne and his teammates haven’t forgotten that feeling as they returned to finish with they left undone last season.
“I mean — this is a business trip at the end of the day. And we’ve been working on this since last summer to get back to this moment, to get back to Saturday night,” Osborne said. “So we’re taking it one game at a time, but we’re taking everything extremely seriously, every rep in practice, everything in the hotel. It’s no messes, it’s nothing.”
Step one in that process was securing a 75-64 win over Elizabeth City State in the quarterfinals of the 2023 CIAA Tournament on Wednesday evening. Osborne and teammate Keleaf Johnson both put up 26 points to carry much of the load offensively for VUU.
Tate, who was also a part of last year’s team that won 23 game but was kept out of the NCAA Tournament, agreed that what happened in 2022 has sharpened the team’s focus.
“We don’t want that feeling anymore because we already knew how that feeling was last year, coming up (short) by three, two points. So we’re trying to make a run for this year and this tournament.”
By virtue of its top seed in the CIAA Tournament, it will get to rest before taking on the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal between Winston-Salem State and Claflin.
Virginia Union looking to secure NCAA bid with CIAA title
Virginia Union head coach Jay Butler knows what the expectations are at Lombardy Street.
“I won three championships, I went to the Final four and I tell them all the time. That feeling is priceless,” Butler said. “And I tell the kids all the time, I say, at Union, you can win a lot of games, but you remembered by championships. They can’t help it but to look up.”
A look up at Barco-Stevens Hall reveals three men’s NCAA Division II titles and 17 CIAA Tournament titles — the last coming in 2018 under Butler.
“My assistant coach, Coach Burroughs says ‘don’t look up. You don’t have a banner up there yet,” Butler said with a laugh. “I think these guys want to come back with their degrees — with their masters — and be able to come to homecoming with their kids and say, ‘hey, I put a championship up there and that’s what it’s all about at Union. It’s a legacy, it’s a tradition of winning. And I think these kids, they put the work in and they sacrifice.”
More immediate than hanging another banner is making sure that the program wins out so it can make the NCAA Tournament. The win improved VUU’s record to 23-6 overall, matching last season’s win total with one less loss. Still, the NCAA didn’t pick VUU for an at-large bid after it fell to a 21-win Fayetteville State program in the 2022 CIAA Tournament final.
Butler, who is on the Atlantic Regional voting committee, seems to think his team is deserving of a bid. But if 2022 taught him and his program anything, it is to leave nothing to chance.
“I think we’re doing really well. We played a tough schedule. We’ve played anywhere from the number two ranked team in the country, played up at the CP3 tournament in Connecticut, went down to Atlanta. And so they’re road warriors, they have been through it all. And I just think it’s only fitting just to finish it. I think they’re locked in.”