Woodland Lady Bobcats, Back-to-Back State Champions
Story by Kelly Caldwell, Spring 2014
Confident. Driven. Disciplined. Sacrifice. Faith. To some people, these words may not all work together, but they describe the Woodland Lady Bobcats completely. On their way to winning their back-to-back Class 2A state titles, those words were used more than once.The only blemish to the otherwise perfect season was the 64-62 loss to Lauderdale County on the road.
"We were robbed in that game," Jaide Walker, senior forward, said. "But, we really learned not to take things for granted. We had to play our best in each and every game."
Over the two seasons, the Lady Cats only lost three games , two of which were by only 2 points. After winning two titles and finishing as state runner up in 2011, this group of seniors are the most decorated in school history for sure, but its not a title the team took lightly.
"After winning it all last year, we couldn't imagine that we were going to do it again," Walker said. We just really took it one game at a time, and now we are finished playing for Woodland. It seems unreal to be done with something that has been such a big part of our lives for so long."
For the four starting seniors, Leah Strain, Shanna Strain, Shalyn Strain and Walker, the hard work began well before the first time any of the foursome put on a Woodland uniform.
"We started playing basketball as soon as we could walk," twin sisters Shalyn and Shanna said. "But we started playing together with Leah and Jaide when we were in third grade."
"We were the Dixie Thunder, and when we started I was terrible," Jaide said. "I remember my dad saying to me... Basketball... really? But, I worked hard at it."
Even back then the foursome was something special.
"We would have to play up an age group sometimes even two age groups," Leah said. "Sometimes the other team seemed like they were two feet taller than us."
To achieve this success, sacrifices were made. Every summer was spent in the gym either playing travel ball or attending team camps.
"We had to work hard for what we got. A lot of people think this was easy. Our vacations were in the gym unless a tournament was at the beach," Leah said. "We didn't have vacations like typical kids did. Our summers were spent in gyms and locker rooms."
While it was tough, none of the girls would trade it for anything.
"I don't think anyone likes camps," Shanna said. "But at the end of the day, when you were so tired you could barely move, we knew we were doing what it takes to be better players when it counted."
"There is going to be let-downs and disappointments in life," Leah said. "You can't let that beat you. You have to get back up and fight.
"I have always been one of the smaller players but my Gramps always told me 'It's not how big you are its how big your heart is and how big you play!' I will always carry that with me."
That determination will serve them well in the future. The twins will play basketball at Southern Union State Community College while Leah will continue her athletic career at Jacksonville State in the fall.
The girls are quick to give credit where its due.
"We give God all the Glory," Shalyn said. "He made all this possible and we wouldn't have anything without Him. The Lord has really blessed us that we have been able to play with such a great team."
These future leaders have also been fortunate to have some strong women in their lives to teach them what is important.
Jaide was quick to say that she looks up to her mom Rhonda for a very simple reason.
"She puts up with my dad," Jaide laughed. "It's a very hard job to do sometimes."
Shanna and Shalyn agreed their grandmother Linda Kirby is one of the strongest women then know.
"She doesn't let anyone take advantage of her and tells people like it is," Shalyn said.
"Yeah, she doesn't take crap off anyone," Shanna said.
While Leah believes her mother Robin has taught her a lot about being a strong Southern woman.
"She stands up for what she believes in," Leah said. " My dad is a football coach and she catches a lot of grief sometimes. Early on, she would hold her tongue in the stands but now she holds her ground for what she believes in. She is strong in her faith and life."
While the future is uncertain for these four, one thing is true. The girls are well on their way to being more than a couple of state titles earned in high school. Basketball has taught us so much about life," Leah said. "If you work hard and don't quit, anything is possible."
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