As is the case most nights when the Woodland High School girls team plays, they headed home as winners. In this matchup of the Woodland Bobcats vs. Beulah Bobcats, the home team had taller players but was clearly overmatched. Woodland dominated every phase of the game on the way to winning 74-32 to improve its record to 24-1 as it tunes up for the state playoffs that begin with area games a week from Thursday.
Strain's reputation for not being overly impressed with her own accomplishments and being a team-first player was evident in her postgame comments as well as the way she played the game. "I don't feel like we played real smooth tonight because we turned the ball over way too much, but other than that we were okay," she tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "You can be ready to play every night, but you can't play your perfect game every night. We were sloppy I would say."
Courtney and her sister Leah, a talented eighth-grader who is the team's starting point guard, combined to score 46 of Woodland's points on a night in which Courtney was usually looking to pass first to set up teammates rather than worrying about scoring herself. She still managed to finish with 25 points, which is right on her season average.
"In the past when the other girls on our team couldn't score as much as they can now, I would have to take the ball and score more," the senior guard explains, noting that for her final Woodland team to have a chance to reach its goal of winning the Class 2A state championship that she "is working on building my teammates' confidence for the tougher games."
Despite not scoring at the pace she did earlier in high school, Strain passed the 5,000 points mark for her career this month. The previous record was 4,155 points scored by Starr Orr from Speake High.
"All of my records, all of my points, I would throw them out the window in a heartbeat to make it to Birmingham and win the state championship this year," Strain says. "That is not only what my heart is set on doing, I feel the whole team wants to do the same thing."
Just looking at the Bobcats as a collection of basketball players, nobody is going to be impressed before a game starts. Strain, a shade under five-feet-nine inches tall, is the team's "big player" and more than a few observes have said the group looks like it wandered onto the court from a junior high game. However, once the whistle blows the respect factor increases as the diminutive Bobcats swing into action.
"Oh yeah, we know about the comments, but we just kind of let them roll off our shoulders," Strain says with a smile when asked about her team getting teased about its lack of size. "They can laugh if they want, but we just save it for the court I guess you would say."
Her father and head coach, Larry Strain, emphasizes team play, concentration on basketball fundamentals and an up-tempo style that plays to his team's strengths. Courtney says she likes how the team is developing in her final season at Woodland. "I feel like we are playing real well," she says.
Coach Strain notes that Courtney is continuing to improve as a player on both ends of the court. Defensively, she has learned to match up against post players as well as guards. Offensively, she has extended her shooting range to become more of a threat from behind the three-point line.
"I know defense is one of the key factors that I will have to improve on when I get to Auburn because the players are so much bigger, faster and stronger in the SEC than they are around here," Courtney says. "I will need to continue to work on that.
Courtney Strain is in position to deny an entry pass to a Beulah player.
Courtney, who doubles as a cheerleader for the boys games, obviously doesn't have any problems with multi-tasking. She will graduate as Woodland High's salutatorian with her 4.0 grade point average and will be missed at WHS after she heads to Auburn later this year to begin college classes. However, there will be plenty of Strains to carry on the tradition. Counting Courtney and her sister Leah, the Bobcats can and have put five Strains on the court at the same time in games, including a trio of cousins on the varsity.
Like Courtney, Leah is likely to be a player who college coaches will be watching carefully. "Leah is going to relentlessly get after you on defense," Coach Strain says.
A standout at Coach Nell Fortner's summer camp last year as was her older sister, Leah has been impressive throughout the 2009-2010 season. Against Beulah she scored 21 points and did a good job of directing the offense and pressuring the opposing team's ball-handlers.
"I love playing with Leah," Courtney says. "We are alike, but then again we are totally different players. She is a point guard, I am a shooting guard. I am kind of laid-back and she is gritty and is going to get in your face. I guess I?need a little bit of her in me."
Courtney Strain was Auburn's first commitment for the 2011 signee class.
Tuesday night in Beulah, Courtney's AAU coach from the Georgia Blazers made the trip over from Columbus, Ga., to watch the senior play. The guard says the chance to play with the Blazers and match up in tournaments vs. the top prospects in the country has been a major asset to her development as a player.
"That helps me tremendously because in our area of the state there are no girls over six feet tall," Courtney says. "I think that is one of the main things that will be a key factor in helping me get ready for D-1."
Strain signed in November to play for the Tigers and will be joining what Fortner says is an exciting group of five newcomers that includes 6-5 center Peyton Davis from Mortimer Jordan High, 5-10 guard Camille Glymph from Greenville, S.C., 6-2 forward Tyrese Tanner from Hoover High and 6-2 forward Jassany Williams from Nova High in Davie, Fla.