She was a water girl for the varsity team her father, Larry Strain, coached. And even at that young age, Leah was allowed to practice some with the varsity girls.
“I’m always going to be shorter than everybody,” said Leah.
“And ever since I’ve been playing, I’ve been smaller. Just having to go against the bigger girls just prepared me for high school ball.”
And now Leah, a sophomore, is The Star’s Area Player of the Year for the second year running.
“Our whole ultimate goal to this thing is to be as good as we can possibly be,” said Larry. “So we’re striving day in and day out to become the best basketball players that we can. That’s what Leah has done. We’re just blessed to have the awards to go along with it.”
Leah’s father is now her high school coach, and her older sister Courtney plays at Auburn. Leah, the youngest sibling of the Strain household, has goals for herself, primarily winning a state championship for Woodland and moving on to play D1 basketball.
The Bobcats fell 51-49 to Section this year at Pete Mathews Coliseum in the Northeast Regional semifinals after reaching the AHSAA Class 2A state championship game during Leah’s freshman year. Leah led all scorers in the game against Section with 29 points and 12 rebounds.
“She realizes already that she has got to push herself to the 10th degree,” Larry said of his daughter’s pursuit of her goals. “She obviously wants to play college basketball. And, first of all, with her stature — I bet she’s about 5-4 — now that’s kind of hard for someone who’s 5-4 to play on a college level. Therefore, she realizes she’s got to be the best at handling the ball, playing defense and all those other aspects of the game, in order to overcome that.”
Leah said her high school goal is to win a state championship and that after high school her goal is to attend a D1 college on a basketball scholarship. She has already gotten offers from Alabama, Troy and South Alabama.
“It would mean everything in the world (to win a state championship,)” said Leah. “I know how much I want it, and I know how much my dad wants it as a coach, and just this community and team, it would mean so much if we could win a state championship.”
To achieve those goals, Leah and her father put in an extraordinary amount of work. Leah said she doesn’t mind the work and likes having her father help push her.
“It’s like a never-ending process,” she said. “As soon as basketball is over, I have him seventh period in the weight room, and we’re lifting weights or we’re at the track doing agilities or footwork or speed drills. He’s always pushing me and telling me that I’m not the tallest or most athletic, but as long as I have the biggest heart and work the hardest, then I can go far.”
Larry said that coming from such a competitive family helps keep everyone focused on their goals and that his competitive streak runs strong through his family and all three of his children.
“Hey, realize that in order for us to get to that goal that we want to obtain,” Larry said, “then we have to work harder, and that’s what (Leah) is trying to do.”
Leah said she has found many lessons playing the game of basketball that helps her in her day-to-day life off the court.
“You’ve got your teammates that you can’t let down; you’re always working as hard as you can and they’re always working as hard as they can and you’ve got each other’s back,” she said. “And in life you’ve got your family and you have God and you know that you’ve got each other’s back. Basketball has taught me that things aren’t always handed over to you, that you’ve got to work hard and give it your best.”