She awoke as runner-up to Prattville Christian’s Kristen Emerson in hard-to-figure voting and looking to the future.
“I always say that I have room for improvement,” Strain said after Thursday’s banquet to recognize Mr. and Miss Basketball and players of the year in all classifications. “I just know I’ve got to go to work, so maybe I can get this award next year.”
Strain not winning 2A player of the year was a shocker on a day that also saw Anniston junior center Quanetria Bolton come in third in voting for 4A girls player of the year, behind winner Destiney Elliott (Oneonta) and Hannah Nichols (Madison County).
Wenonah’s De’Runnya Wilson was Mr. Basketball and Hoover’s Marqu’es Webb Miss Basketball.
The Alabama Sports Writers Association holds the vote when high school writers from around the state gather to select all-state teams. Once the all-state first teams are chosen for each classification and gender, each five-player group goes to a vote for players of the year.
A first-place vote garners five points, a second-place vote four and so on. There were 13 voters.
The 2A girls’ vote was the second closest, with Emerson edging Strain 59 points to 56. Providence Christian’s Elizabeth Dowd was third with 41 points.
The closest vote came among 1A girls, where Covenant Christian’s Anna Claire Noblit edged McIntosh’s Amber Roberts 47-46.
Emerson was a deserving finalist. The 6-foot-2 forward averaged 22.4 points, 12.5 rebounds and 6.5 blocks. Playing with a brace to support her broken wrist, she also handled the ball against the press and set the offense.
“I wasn’t shocked at all,” Strain said. “Kristen Emerson is a tremendous player. We got to talk a lot over there at the table, and she’s really nice. I’m proud of her, and I’m glad she got it.”
Indeed, Emerson scored 37 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in the state final, where Prattville Christian finished off a 34-1 season.
Then again, the one loss came against Strain and Woodland in the state final. Strain scored 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as a 5-foot-4 point guard.
When Strain drove the lane, she drove against Emerson, who played at the center of Prattville Christian’s 1-3-1 zone. That defense was designed to deny Strain and her 3-point shooting cousins on the wings, Shanna and Shalyn Strain.
The 1-3-1 also created chances for other players. Like point guard should, Strain kept spotting the open player on the baseline. Jaide Walker scored 16 points.
Bottom line: Woodland won 64-53, and Strain was selected the tournament most valuable player.
To get the chance, Strain and Woodland also had to beat Dowd and Providence Christian in the semifinals. Strain had 34 points and nine rebounds in that game.
Strain was also most valuable player of the Northeast Regional and averaged 21.5 points, seven rebounds, 5.2 assists and 4.3 steals on the year.
Those stats only begin to tell the ways Strain led Woodland to its first AHSAA-sanctioned state title in any sport. Through the regional and state tourneys, she dribbled teams to sleep.
With Woodland protecting fourth-quarter leads, opponents ran two and three defenders at Strain, trying to steal the ball. She maintained control, even after a North Sand Mountain player bumped her to one knee without drawing a foul.
Ultimately, desperate opponents would have to foul Strain, and she hit 32 of 42 free throws in Woodland’s final four games in Jacksonville and Birmingham. That includes 13 of 16 in the state final.
It’s hard to imagine what more one player could do for a championship team.
It’s just as hard to imagine how Strain could go from MVP in Birmingham to runner-up in Montgomery, but she takes it in stride.
“It’s the ring,” she said. “The ring is the team. That’s more important than any individual award I could ever receive.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.