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Coach on the Floor: Kelly Ran the Show for State Champion Lady Bucs
By Rubin E. Grant
Hoover girls basketball coach Krystle Johnson had no qualms about letting Reniya Kelly run the show for the Lady Bucs this season.
After all, Kelly was in her fourth season on the varsity and the 5-foot-7 junior point guard knew exactly what Johnson wanted her to do.
“Her basketball IQ is amazing,” Johnson said. “And it helps that our relationship is so good. We’re thinking the same thing, so she’s legitimately our coach on the floor. She always makes the right decisions for our team, whether that’s scoring for herself or getting the other players involved.”
Kelly averaged 14.0 points per game, 4.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists this season, helping Hoover repeat as Class 7A state champions with a 34-3 record.
She led the Lady Bucs with 26 points, sinking 14 of 17 free-throw attempts, in their 73-64 victory against rival Vestavia Hills in the championship game. She also had nine rebounds and four assists to earn MVP honors.
For her performance, Kelly was voted the 2022 Over The Mountain Girls Basketball Player of the Year in balloting of Over the Mountain coaches. It’s the second consecutive season she has earned the honor.
“I think it’s extra good to be named player of the year again,” Kelly said. “I worked very hard.”
Kelly is one of four Hoover players on the 2022 All-OTM team. The others are senior forward Aniya Hubbard, junior center Kristen McMillian and junior guard Layla Etchison.
Vestavia Hills landed three players on the team, senior guards Emma Smith and her twin, Ally Smith, and freshman guard Sarah Gordon.
Mountain Brook also had three players voted to the team, sophomore guards Sarah Passink and Emma Stearns and freshman guard Francie Morris.
Rounding out the team are Spain Park senior guard Camille Chase, Oak Mountain sophomore forward Raegan Whitaker, Briarwood sophomore guard Mary Beth Dicen and Homewood senior guard-forward Caidyn Cannon.
Vestavia Hills’ John David Smelser was voted the Girls Coach of the Year for the third consecutive season.
Kelly was extra motivated this season, trying to help the Lady Bucs finally succeed in repeating. They had won odd-year state titles in 2017, 2019 and 2021 but hadn’t gone back-to-back until this season.
“It’s a blessing to win two in a row,” she said. “I lot of teams don’t get to the BJCC and we worked hard to get back, being in that atmosphere and being in position to win it again. It was all worth it.”
Kelly now has been a part of three state championships in her four seasons at Hoover with another season to go before she moves on. She has committed to the University of North Carolina.
But before she heads to the next level, Kelly has one goal in mind for senior season next year.
“I want to get a three-peat,” she said. “That’s something Hoover has never done before.”
Coach of the Year
Smelser would like nothing better than to end Hoover’s reign next season. He has done everything else but win a state championship in his first three years as Vestavia Hills’ head coach.
He guided the Lady Rebels to a 33-3 record this season, with two of the losses coming to Hoover, as he earned coach of the year honors again.
“That’s really a blessing because it’s the people we compete against who voted,” Smelser said. “It’s an honor because there are a lot of good coaches around here.”
Smelser especially enjoyed this season because of Vestavia Hills’ three seniors, the Smith twins and Carley Smith, who is not related to them.
“I’ve had them for three years and they’re good players, so this senior class was special,” Smelser said.
Smelser now has an overall record of 86-18 in three seasons at the helm of the Lady Rebels, but he shares the credit for their success.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the players and the assistant coaches,” he said. “My assistants put in a lot work, but we’re nothing without the players. Our players make us what we are.”
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