By Evan Dudley
Sometimes history has a tendency to repeat itself.
Hoover’s Skyla Knight had just dropped a three-pointer from the left side of the arc to give her team a six-point lead when she collapsed to the court in pain.
Knight was tended to by trainers before being helped off the court by Bucs head coach Krystle Johnson, who knew exactly what to say to her senior.
“I wanted her to know that you’re going to get back out there on the court and you will be fine,” Johnson said.
As a player at her alma mater, Johnson was also injured in her final game, but she returned to hit the game-winning free-throws for Hoover’s first state title in 2001.
So it was with Knight as she returned in the second half to help lead the Hoover Bucs 34-1 to its sixth state title with a 47-33 win over the Hewitt-Trussville Huskies in the Class 7A girls state final. The final was played Saturday at Legacy Arena in Birmingham.
“We were much happier with our effort today,” Johnson said. “I think we understood how big this game was, and we came out and played hard.”
Knight had seven points at the time of her injury; played sparingly in the second half, finishing with nine points and two assists; and refused to sit as she stayed loose behind the bench while providing extra support for her teammates.
Despite playing only 15 minutes in the title game, Knight was named tournament MVP while Joiya Maddox, who had 11 points, eight rebounds and three assists, was named to the Class 7A All-Tournament Team.
In Knight’s absence, Miya Kimber was instrumental in providing an offensive boost in the second half and finished with a team-high 13 points while pulling down five boards.
“It felt good,” Knight said. “Miya really stepped up. I’m proud of my teammates because they really stepped it up regardless of who was out there and kept their heads up.”
Hoover led by seven points after the opening frame but went cold following Knight’s injury. The Bucs were 3 of 17 down the stretch but were able to extend its lead to 23-11 entering the break, thanks to a 10:31 drought by Hewitt-Trussville.
The Bucs opened the second half on a 6-1 run and 6 of 7 shooting to quiet the Legacy Arena crowd to a murmur after stretching the lead to 20 points near the end of the third quarter. It was a contrasting start from the team’s first-half finish. Johnson reiterated what she said at halftime to refocus her team.
“We let them know we weren’t playing our best and we were still winning,” Johnson said. “Just letting them know, if you step it up a little bit, we could blow the game open. I think we did that in the third quarter, but it seems like we were too relaxed in the first half. Even though we were winning, we weren’t playing at the speed we wanted to play.”
Hoover’s lead grew as much as 25 points in the final period, but the Huskies closed out the game on a 13-2 run to cut the final margin to 14 with the Bucs scoring only once in the final six minutes.
An emphatic victory for the program’s sixth title met Johnson’s own desire to win her second ring as a head coach after winning the 2001 title as a player and two more as an assistant coach.
She even sent a text message to her team expressing that desire.
“I sent a picture of my rings this morning,” she said. “And I said I’m trying to get five today.”
Knight, Kimber and Maddox, along with reserve Melanie Hall, are the only seniors on the roster and leave knowing they’ll miss their coach more than they might have originally thought.
“We’re going to miss her sarcasm, her laughing moments,” Kimber said. “Really, we’re going to miss everything about her because there is no one else like her.”
The Bucs came up a game shy of playing in the state tournament in 2018 after falling to Sparkman in the Northwest Regional final. Hoover began this season 2-0 before losing to eventual Class 6A champion Hazel Green in its third game, but the team finished the 2018-2019 season with a 32-game winning streak and the coveted blue map.
“The road to redemption literally means everything,” Maddox said. “Nothing was going to stand in our way from getting what we wanted, and we got what we wanted.”