Going into the postseason this year, Adam Wolfenbarger’s Grainger team was sitting at a record of 13-15, going 7-5 in the district.
However, despite this, Wolfenbarger was feeling very confident about his team’s chances in the District 2-AA tournament.
And, he had every reason to be.
Playing in their home gym, Grainger breezed past Cumberland Gap, ensuring a game in the Region 1-AA tournament. Not satisfied, Grainger upset South Greene in the district semifinals, making it to the championship game. While they fell in the championship, the Grizzlies were given a home game in the region tournament.
Taking on Sullivan East in the region quarterfinals, Grainger continued their postseason magic, taking them down 74-71. While Grainger fell in region semifinals to a very good Sullivan South squad 69-66, they impressed everyone watching during their postseason run.
For this, Wolfenbarger has been named Citizen Tribune All-Lakeway Area Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.
“It’s a big honor,” Wolfenbarger said. “We have really good basketball in our area, so it’s a big honor. It’s more of a team honor for me. That is what is most important to me. That the team gets recognized. There would be no award without them.”
Taking over the program in 2017, Wolfenbarger has brought success to Grainger. In his first year as coach, the Grizzlies went 23-9, 9-3 in the district, winning the district and region championships before falling one game short of the state tournament. That region title was the Grizzlies first in program history.
Losing eight seniors from that team, Wolfenbarger led a young Grizzlies team to a 17-13 record the following season. Grainger reached the region quarterfinals that year.
This season was a tale of two teams for Wolfenbarger. The Grizzlies took down Cosby and defeated Morristown East at Morristown East. However, they were never able to put it all together game in and game out.
“We were inconsistent to start the year off,” Wolfenbarger said. “By Christmas time, we were playing better and went over to East and beat them. But we still had some peaks and valleys the rest of the season. Our record wasn’t that good, but that had a lot to do with the competition we faced. We faced a tough non-conference schedule.”
With that inconsistency throughout the season, no one was quite sure which Grainger team would come to play in the postseason. With the team gelling together and the coaching of Wolfenbarger, it was the consistent Grainger team.
After easily dispatching Cumberland Gap in the district quarterfinals, the next task at hand was tall, taking on South Greene. South Greene was the two-seed in the tournament and defeated Grainger both times during the regular season, 62-48 and 78-50.
The game started well for Grainger, matching South Greene shot for shot. However, in the third quarter, the Rebels took over, leading by 11 heading to the final frame. Undeterred, Grainger hit back, out-scoring South Greene 29-11 in the fourth quarter to pull off the upset.
“I think our guys thought that we were just as good as South Greene all year long,” Wolfenbarger said. “South Greene is really good, and I thought they were a bad matchup for us with what they do with their matchup zone and slowing you down. But the whole key was to make shots. We shot the ball well in the first half, and then in the fourth quarter we started making our shots again.”
The postseason run continued for Wolfenbarger and Grainger in the region quarterfinals. Playing at home, Grainger broke out to a 71-62 lead late before holding on to advance to the region semifinals.
“I knew that once it got to go time for us that we would have several guys show up,” Wolfenbarger said. “When we made it to sub state (in 2018), I saw our team really focus in, and this year I saw some of that same focus. We weren’t making the same mistakes we made during the regular season. I think some things started to click. If this bunch makes shots, I thought we could beat anybody.”
While the postseason dream was ended in the region semifinals to Sullivan South, Grainger’s performance did not go unnoticed. And next year, with key players such as Tristan Warfield, Jaxon Williams, Brody Grubb and Emmanuel Atkins returning, the Grizzlies will look to make yet another post season push.
“We return quite a bit,” Wolfenbarger said. “We lose a lot of size, so we’ll have to do some different things with our post defense. But we have a lot of offense back. We had some sophomores and younger kids creep up on some teams this year, so that won’t be the same now. It’s going to be all about how they can adjust to what teams are trying to take away from us.”