Joe Medley: Legacy grows with Strain’s performance
by Joe Medley
Feb 22, 2014 | 3628 views |  0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Woodland's Leah Strain got the most valuable player award in the Class 2A girls Northeast Regional. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
Woodland's Leah Strain got the most valuable player award in the Class 2A girls Northeast Regional. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
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JACKSONVILLE -- It wasn’t Leah Strain’s last game in Pete Mathews Coliseum, just her last as a high school basketball player, but the Woodland senior’s performance in Saturday’s Northeast Regional finals was that crescendo clash of forces.

A great player playing her best meets a team determined to make her do it all, and the resulting statistical explosion whets appetites for more of the same in the same building, not to mention legacy discussion for one of the area’s great prep athletes.

The little sister of the state’s all-time leading scorer isn’t done writing her own legacy at Woodland. She can lead her team to its second state title in as many years next week in Birmingham.

Had Saturday been the last game before Strain traded Woodland blue and orange for Jacksonville State's red and white, what an individual ending it would have been.

To borrow language associated with a football quarterback’s stat line, the Woodland senior and sixth-year starting point guard accounted for 63 points, give or take … the 43 she scored and points that resulted from her 10 assists.

Woodland scored 84 to 68 for Lanett, the team that decided it was better off letting her drive the lane than allowing Strain, twin cousins Shanna and Shalyn Strain and Jaide Walker shoot 3-pointers.

Leah Strain got to play one-on-one for stretches, and 5-foot-4 dynamo has an amazing way of getting to the basket and getting off shots with contact.

She hit 15 of 17 shots from the field.

She hit 12 of 13 free throws.

And let’s not forget her six rebounds.

Or Woodland’s 66-percent shooting and 60-40 edge in the lane, both stats owing big time to the player through whom everything flows.

It was more than enough to make Woodland Class 2A regional champions for the second year in a row and third time in four years. It was enough to make big sis awfully proud.

“I love it,” said Courtney Strain, who attended Saturday’s game. “We’ve all, our entire family, has been truly blessed. The Lord has blessed our whole family, our whole school.

“I’m so proud of her. It makes me want to just cry, almost like a proud mother rather than a sister. She really deserves this. This team really deserves this.”

There was a time when Leah Strain was the seventh-grader and starting at point guard who fed her sister. Then a junior, Courtney Strain broke the state scoring record.

That was pretty much the arrangement through their two seasons together, and Courtney Strain finished with 5,283 career points.

They accomplished a lot together but never got past the Northeast Regional final, falling 77-72 to Section in the regional final in Courtney’s last high school game. No one was more devastated than Leah Strain, who wept even as she sat through the postgame news conference.

At that time, it was the end of her basketball ride with her big sister

Courtney Strain went on to Auburn, and Woodland went on to develop a more well-rounded team with Leah Strain as the play maker.

She became a dominant player. Who can forget how she managed to score 29 points against a Prattville Christian team that stacked a 1-3-1 defense in front of her during last year’s state final?

She led Woodland to its first AHSAA-recognized state title in any sport.

A year later, Leah Strain and mostly the same Woodland cast are going back to Birmingham. They just roared through the regional, routing Sand Rock and Lanett. Leah Strain was the tourney MVP, scoring 72 points in two games.

She’s not the same player she was, back in the day when she teamed with her sister at Woodland.

“One thing I know she has developed is her ball handling with her left hand,” Courtney Strain said. “She used to be all right, all right. Now, she, as you saw today, that crossover is just deadly.”

Leah Strain goes to Birmingham with the chance to leave as the player who led Woodland to its first two state titles in any sport. At 4,499 career points, she’s also eight points shy of second to her sister on the state’s all-time scoring list.

In a family that also saw big brother Trae Strain help Woodland to within a hair of state football titles twice, little sis has already made quite a legacy for herself. She can add another ring to it next week.

“I’m really sad she only has, hopefully, two games left,” Courtney Strain said, “but if it ends next Friday, with a win, I’ll be really happy with it.”

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Medley at jmedley@annistonstar.com. On Twitter, @jmedley_star.
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