Photo by Elmer Smith
Grainger Today Correspondent
RUTLEDGE – When the final buzzer sounded in Saturday night’s 62-29 victory over Grace Christian, Lady Grizzly coach Justin Combs had notched his 300th victory in his high school coaching career.
Combs, who started his head coaching carer at Hamilton High School in Hamilton City, California in 2002, resurrected that program. In 2007, his last year as head coach, he guided the team to a 26-5 record and an appearance in the state tournament. During the five seasons as coach at Hamilton City, Combs posted an 82-50 record.
After returning to his native Grainger County, Combs was an assistant basketball coach at Rutledge High School and served as the middle school boys coach at Rutledge Elementary School. When Grainger High School opened in 2008, he continued to work as an assistant coach, and took the head coaching position in 2009. After going 13-13 in the first season and not qualifying for region play, the Lady Grizzlies then improved to 23-9 and qualified for the region semifinals with a victory over Happy Valley before falling to undefeated and eventual state champion Elizabethton. “After not qualifying for the postseason in that first year, the girls dedicated themselves to advancing to post season play,” said Combs.
In the third year of his Grainger coaching career, the Lady Grizzlies opened the season with a 3-2 record before reeling off 28-straight wins. Unfortunately, Chuckey-Doak who they defeated three times previously, robbed the Lady Grizzlies of a victory in the championship game. However the runner-up finish put the Lady Grizzlies in the substate, the equivalent of the sweet 16 in the state tournament. “Making the substate became the new goal,” said Combs. “That goal remained until the 2014-15 team got us over the hump and into the state tournament.”
After getting a win in the first game and being five points from playing for the state championship, the Lady Grizzly goal changed to bringing home some “hardware” according to coach Combs. “That was now our measuring stick and something we shoot for,” said Combs. The following year the Lady Grizzlies once again qualified for the state tournament, but their season ended in the state quarterfinals/Elite Eight.
The Lady Grizzlies’ record is remarkable over the past six years, as Grainger has won six-straight district regular season championships and five tournament championships, qualified for six substate/sweet 16 games, moved on to the state tournament twice and pressed forward to the state semifinal game/final four on one occasion.
“We have been very lucky to have kids like those that came in for our second year,” said Combs. “They bought into our goals and wanted to put extra work into improving individually and as a team. Our success has come on the backs of some really good players, a lot of talent and assistants like Coach (Dennis) Roach, Kendell McGill, Adam Wolfenbarger and Derrick (Combs). There have been a lot of good players, a lot of good leadership and a lot of good memories. All of those things I will look back on fondly, and all I can hope is that I have in some small way affected the players lives as positively as they have affected mine. That’s why I do it.