By Rubin E. Grant
Krystle Johnson just can’t stop watching the girls Class 7A state championship basketball game.
That’s because it’s a thing of beauty for the Hoover coach.
Two days after guiding the Lady Bucs to a 61-37 victory over Hewitt-Trussville last Wednesday at UAB’s Bartow Arena in the 99th AHSAA State Basketball Championships, Johnson was watching a replay of the game.
Hoover (32-1) limited Hewitt-Trussville (29-5) to just 13 made field goals and to 32.5% shooting from the field and closed the game with an 18-3 run in the final 6:34.
“It’s an enjoyable game to watch,” Johnson said. “It was one of our best games of the season. All our players bought in and were locked in from the start, even on the bench.”
Perhaps no player was more locked in than sophomore team captain Reniya Kelly. She scored 24 points, was 10 of 11 at the foul line, pulled down seven rebounds and had two steals to earn the tournament MVP award.
“She was on the varsity when we won our last championship (in 2019),” Johnson said. “We pulled her up as an eighth grader, but she didn’t think she actually contributed. But this time, she was focused. She played like she was saying, ‘We’re not going to lose today.’”
Fellow team captain Jada Knight, a senior, added 13 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals while being named to the All-Tournament team. Kristen McMillan contributed 11 points and nine rebounds.
Junior Aniya Hubbard also was named to the All-Tournament team, although she played limited minutes in the championship game because of foul trouble, scoring seven points and grabbing six boards. But she had 12 points, seven steals and 11 rebounds in Hoover’s 55-36 victory over Auburn in the semifinals.
Hubbard missed the Final Four last season because of a late-season knee injury and could only watch as Hoover lost 47-44 to Spain Park in the 2020 Class 7A championship game.
“It was really devastating when I couldn’t play last year,” Hubbard said. “I feel like I let the team down. I have such a passion for the game and I couldn’t do anything about it.
“But this year was a nice experience. I didn’t have my best game, but my teammates picked me up. We all worked extra hard, grinded every single day to get better, and that’s why we won.”
The title was the sixth for Hoover, its third in the past five years and the Lady Bucs’ seventh overall. Johnson has played on a Hoover championship team, has served as an assistant coach on another and has been head coach of the past three.
“This one was very special because of all the things we went through,” Johnson said. “At the beginning, we were not sure we were going to have a season because of COVID, and once the season started, we had to shut down for two weeks because of COVID. Then our starting center, Rachel Hager, tore her ACL in a game against Spain Park and we had a couple of sophomores get hurt, so our post position was devastated. And each coach had something personal happen.
“So, with all of that happening, to play in the last game and come out on top, it’s amazing.”