The state tournament’s most valuable player, Leah Strain, scored a team-high 29 points and Jaide Walker added 16 to lead Woodland’s girls’ basketball team to a 64-53 victory over Prattville Christian in Friday’s Class 2A state final in BJCC Arena.
The victory earned Woodland its first state title officially recognized by the Alabama High School Athletic Association. The AHSAA awards a blue trophy to state champions and a red one to runners-up.
Woodland’s girls got the red trophy when they lost to Tanner in Birmingham in 2011. The school’s football team lost twice to Leroy in the state finals, in 2004 and 2006.
Woodland’s 1963 football team finished 10-0 and was named state champion in a statewide newspaper, but the AHSAA recognizes Talladega as the 1963 champion.
For Larry Strain, Leah’s father who coached Woodland’s football and girls’ basketball teams through all of its modern-era near-misses, getting the blue trophy is sweet.
He also coached his oldest daughter Courtney, the state’s all-time leading scorer, and son Trae, who played on those state-runner-up football teams. Nieces Amy Strain, a senior, and Shalyn and Shanna Stain, both juniors, were starters on the championship team.
Along with Walker, they’ve played together almost year-round since second grade.
“It’s been an overall process just getting to this point, but this one is definitely special,” Larry Strain said. “Any time that you’ve got your own children — and that’s not meaning that I don’t love any of them others, either, because I guarantee that some of my favorite teams didn’t have a single one of my kids on it — but you get close to those kids.
“You can tell it means something to them, and that’s what makes it special.”
To get the championship, Woodland had to overcome a 37-point, 12-rebound performance by Prattville Christian’s Kristen Emerson. The Bobcats also struggled with PCA’s long arms in the 1-3-1 zone defense, going 2-for-15 on 3-pointers.
But Woodland got it done by adjusting its press at halftime, which helped the Bobcats force 19 turnovers and outscore Prattville Christian 23-9 off turnovers. Shalyn Strain had five steals and Leah Strain four.
Once Woodland got a lead in the second half, it was able to count on its ball-handling and free-throw shooting. Leah Strain played keepaway as Prattville Christian tried to trap out of its zone, and she forced the Panthers to foul. She hit 13 of 16 free throws, and Woodland hit 26 of 34.
Shalyn Strain scored eight of her 10 points from the free-throw line.
Leah Strain, Shalyn Strain and Walker made the all-tournament team after helping Woodland, the top-ranked team in 2A for much of the season, finish 34-2.
Emerson and and Nicole Hoots made the all-tourney team for Prattville Christian, which finished 34-1.
The all-tourney team also included Elizabeth Dowd, whose Providence Christian team lost to Woodland in the semifinals.
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.