Grainger standout commits to Carson-Newman

Grainger’s Tori Rutherford, center, with Carson-Newman women’s basketball coach Mike Mincey, right, and Tatum Burstrom, left. Rutherford committed to Carson-Newman on Monday.

Tori Rutherford has won about every award possible during her first three years playing basketball at Grainger High School.

She’s led the Lady Grizz to a 62-11 record during her time and two straight state tournament appearances.

And now, Rutherford will have the opportunity to make the same impact just down the road.

Rutherford, just a junior, made her college commitment official on Monday, committing to play for Carson-Newman in two years.

“It’s definitely a lifelong dream,” Rutherford said. “When I knew I could play for Carson-Newman and got that offer, I was super excited because I knew I could stay around my community and see my family. I was really glad to see my dream come true.”

The closeness to home played a huge factor for Rutherford, who says that she is a homebody. Being able to stay close to home allows Rutherford’s family to come watch her play as well as giving her the ability to watch her younger sister play at Grainger.

Also playing a factor was the atmosphere and knowledge of the program. Four of the current players on the Lady Eagles team are from the Lakeway Area.

“I felt like I was at home already,” Rutherford said. “And just meeting the girls and knowing most of them already, like Braelyn Wykle, it made the decision a lot easier.”

Averaging 12 points, 4.1 steals and 2.7 assists her junior year, Rutherford led Grainger to a 32-4 record, going on a 25-game win streak at one point. The Lady Grizz won the district regular season and tournament championship, came in second in the region tournament and made it to the state quarterfinals.

Rutherford was named the Blue Ridge Athletic Conference’s girls MVP, a member on the All-Conference first team, the district tournament MVP and a member of the region all-tournament team. She was also the 2019-2020 Citizen Tribune All-Lakeway Area Girls Basketball Player of the Year.

During the season, Rutherford totaled her 1,000 career point in a game against Greeneville.

“It was a great feeling,” Rutherford said after the Greeneville game. “I really didn’t expect to get it as early as I did. At the beginning of the season, I didn’t even know how many points away I was to getting it. Coach told me before the Greeneville game that I was close to getting it, but I didn’t know how many I needed. But afterwards I found out that I got it, and I was so excited. I was so glad that all my hard work paid off.”

Rutherford will be joining, in two years, a Carson-Newman team that went 22-8 this past year, making it all the way to the quarterfinals of the Southeast Region Tournament. The tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19.

The Lady Eagles graduated three players from this year’s team and will graduate three more next year, giving Rutherford a good chance for early playing time.

“I just need to work getting stronger before I go there because I know that college is going to be a much different atmosphere then what I am used to playing in,” Rutherford said. “I just need to be ready to come in and contribute to them early as much as I can.”

Rutherford said that she has been working out at home during this COVID-19 pandemic as well as going to a friends gym to try and stay in shape.

Before she gets to Carson-Newman though, Rutherford is focused on her final year at Grainger. After making the state tournament in back-to-back years, another appearance is not enough for Rutherford and the Lady Grizz. Now, their focus is on bigger and better things.

“I am super excited and sad at the same time because high school has gone by so fast,” Rutherford said. “We have the same goal as last year. We want to go back to state, but this year we want to win a game and try and stay up there as long as possible.”