RUTLEDGE – Grainger junior guard Tori Rutherford has been selected as a member of the Tennessee Report All-State team, a squad that is selected by a vote of the girls head basketball coaches in the Volunteer State.
Rutherford was an important piece in the Lady Grizzlies’ success during the 2019-20 season as she helped lead the team to a 32-4 record and their second consecutive trip to the TSSAA state tournament and fourth overall. Grainger won the regular season and district conference championships, was runner up in the regional tournament and won the sub-state game to advance to Murfreesboro.
Rutherford was quick to acknowledge her teammates for helping her to win the honor.
“It means a lot to me and definitely reflects on how good my teammates are at getting me the ball and getting me open. I’m not much on individual awards but I really thank my teammates for this,” she said.
“Tori puts the time in and puts the work in and it was great to see her reap all the benefits of her hard work,” head coach Rusty Bishop said of his star guard. “Tori is one of our hardest workers at practice and off the floor as well. Our players will follow someone like that. Most people aren’t going to out-work Tori and others fall in line behind her.”
The past two seasons have been monster ones for the Lady Grizzlies as they have gone 30-7 and 32-4 and played in the state tournament both years. Rutherford said the familiarity between her and her teammates is the main ingredient in the success of Grainger basketball.
“Most of the Grainger teams started playing together when we were four or five years old. This year’s seniors, I had played basketball with them since I was four and playing with each other since we were tiny really helps us. When you get to high school, you know each other so well that it really helps us out.”
Bishop said the All-State accolade is even more impressive in light of the fact Rutherford doesn’t have to shoulder the load offensively every night as she is surrounded by a talented group of players.
“Luckily, we can put four or five scorers on the floor at the same time, but Tori is the straw that stirs the drink and kind of gets everyone going,” Bishop said. “Most of our players, including Tori, do a great job of knowing who is hot on any particular night and they get that person the ball. Tori is fortunate to be surrounded by a lot of very talented players and it makes her job a little easier. Her points per game could be a little more gaudy than they are if she wasn’t surrounded by such talented people, but she is very unselfish and is just as happy to facilitate to others as she is to score points herself.”
One of the goals for the Lady Grizzlies coming into the season was to host and win a sub-state game at The Den. That goal was averted due to a loss to Elizabethton in the region title game and that meant Grainger had to go on the road in the sub-state round. That was a place the Lady Grizzlies have found themselves in before as during their previous three trips to the state tourney, they had to win on the road to advance to the state tourney. History repeated itself as Grainger knocked off Carter this year to punch their ticket once more.
Rutherford said the sub-state game was her favorite of the entire season.
“This year, we expected to play the sub-state game at home and we all really talked about that, but we had some adversity and had to go away for the game,” she said. “The girls at Carter had been kind of like rivals but we never played each other until this year, so to be able to go there and win as a team and afterwards celebrating with all our fans, that was my favorite memory.”
Drawing a tough Westview team in the first round at state presented a major challenge to the Lady Grizzlies and after mounting a comeback in the fourth period, Grainger fell a little short of advancing to the semi-final round with a 43-38 loss. The state tournament was cancelled due to the coronavirus situation but Rutherford said she was still appreciative of the state tournament experience.
“We were hoping we would win a game and it didn’t end like we wanted it to, but not many teams get to experience that. We were all very thankful for having a blast because that experience is rare for teams. We were just trying to gain all the experience we could. We will definitely try to go back again next year,” she said.
Speaking of next year, the Lady Grizzlies will once again be one of the favorites in the East Tennessee area to return to Murfreesboro. Grainger will take a hit with the graduation of some of its post players like Abbey Hodge, McKenzie Stratton and Josie Harbin, but Rutherford said the team will still be blessed with talented guard play and she is looking forward to her senior season.
“We aren’t going to be as big as we were this year, but we had a lot of guards playing at the same time this year so I am really excited to see how differently we will play. I feel we play fast already but I think we will play even faster next year,” Rutherford said of a look ahead to her senior season.