Both juniors made first-team all-state, and now they’re finalists for Alabama Sports Writers Association player of the year in their respective classifications. Winners will be announced April 4 in Montgomery.
Bolton is joined by Hannah Nichols of Madison County and Destiney Elliott of Oneonta as finalists for the Class 4A girls honor.
In 2A, Strain is joined by Elizabeth Dowd of Providence Christian and Kristen Emerson of Prattville Christian. Dowd and Emerson played for the two teams Woodland defeated in the state semifinals and final to become state champion.
Strain has been a finalist the past two years as well, but never won 2A player of the year.
“To start with, Leah has continued to improve each and every year, and I think it has a lot to do with maturity,” Lady Bobcats coach Larry Strain said. “She understands this thing is more of a team concept than just about her. I think she’d be the first to tell you that the success she has is to do with the teammates around her.”
She led Woodland in every major statistical category, averaging 21.5 points a game on 60 percent shooting from the field. Strain also made 70 percent of her free throws and averaged 5.2 assists.
Strain also had a team-leading seven rebounds a game, despite being only 5-foot-4. Her sister, 5-foot-9 Courtney Strain, won Class 2A player of the year in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
“Courtney is going to beat you away from the rim, and Leah is going to take it to the rim,” Larry Strain said. “I asked both of them what was really the difference, and I can’t answer that myself truthfully. But Leah was also our leading rebounder.
“I really believe that she would tell you it all goes back to growing up with Courtney and (brother) Trae. She would have to go in there and get physical with them and would get bumped around.”
Along with Courtney winning the award three times, Chantirus Stone also won player of the year at Woodland in 2001 under Strain.
For Bolton, last season was one of transformation.
The 6-foot-2 center went from a bench player to the star of the team. That happened once she learned coach Eddie Bullock’s system after transferring to Anniston after her freshman year.
“At first, she was trying to figure us out and what plays we run and things like that,” Bullock said. “We had to get her in the mindset that we’re in and the mindset of ball that we play around here.”
With that mindset, Bolton shined. She averaged 23 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks a game as Anniston went 23-5 and to the Northeast Regional last season.
“She finally got it going and put up great numbers,” Bullock said. “She probably could have done better, and I’m sure she will when she gets a little more comfortable.”
Bullock said he expects even bigger numbers from Bolton, who has received attention from Southeastern Conference and other southern schools. The coach said he thinks Bolton is capable of averaging 30 to 35 points and 20 rebounds a game.
“That’s an obtainable goal,” Bullock said. “She has to dominate, but she can do it easily.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.