News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

April 22, 2014

Wabash Valley high school basketball players of the year: Their career numbers tell only part of the story

Marshall’s Grooms, Casey’s Wolfe helped turned their programs around

TERRE HAUTE — One of the prouder people in east-central Illinois, as the Tribune-Star awards its 2013-2014 high school basketball Player of the Year awards, is probably Barry Wolfe.

One of the award winners is Marshall star Kaydie Grooms, one of the players who honed their skills — “since we could dribble and run at the same time,” she said recently — on AAU teams coached, among others, by Wolfe.

And the other winner is Casey’s Brandon Wolfe, Barry’s son.

The two Little Illini Conference stars were fairly clear-cut choices for their honors in voting done by members of the Tribune-Star staff, lacking just one vote between them of being unanimous picks as the Wabash Valley’s top players. They are also the Tribune-Star’s Athletes of the Year for winter sports.

“It’s an absolute honor. I’m really excited about it,” Grooms said when she heard the news.

“It’s quite an honor,” Brandon Wolfe agreed. “It’s always good to be recognized for hard work, and nice to see when it pays off that way.”

If you want numbers, both players have plenty of them.

Grooms, a two-time Illinois Class 2A first-team all-state selection, averaged 21.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.5 steals, 1.7 assists and 1.1 blocks per game during the past season while shooting 61 percent from the field and 73 percent from the foul line.

She was named her team’s best offensive player, best defensive player and best rebounder, had its highest free-throw percentage, was its MVP (of course) and was a three-time all-LIC player. She’s Marshall’s all-time leader scorer with 1,669 points and also has single-season school records for points and free throws.

Wolfe, perhaps more familiar to more Wabash Valley fans because of four years of play at the Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Classic — he was its Most Outstanding Player as a senior — averaged 19.7 points, 5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game as a senior, shooting 44 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3-point range and 77 percent from the foul line.

Maybe none of those are the best numbers the two honorees have, however. In the fall of 2010, when they entered their respective high schools, neither the Warrior boys nor the Lion girls had basketball traditions approaching what they have now.

“I personally had a pretty good career,” Wolfe said, for example, “but the biggest thing for us was that we got better every year.”

Casey was 15-10 during Wolfe’s freshman year, then 15-11 against a tougher schedule, then won 19 and 20 games the following two years.

“I learned more than I would ever have thought possible, since starting as a freshman with [fellow four-year starter] Zack Murphy,” Wolfe said. “I wish we could’ve won a regional or a sectional, but we tried to start a winning tradition here.”

Grooms’ winning percentages are even better. Marshall finished 18-6 as she worked her way into more and more playing time as a freshman, and in her three years as a starter the Lions lost twice, then twice again, then just once.

“Seventy-five and five [the wins and losses the past three seasons]. That’s not too bad,” noted Marshall coach Kathy Miller.

“It’s been a blast, and I’m sad it’s over,” said Grooms, who is quick to dismiss any suggestion that the greatest three-year era in her school’s history was strictly about her. “Our senior class was very special … I think we’ll be down in history for quite a long time.”

“She’s been a great player, a leader, and she’s worked really hard,” Miller said of Grooms. “She’s a team player, she lets the game come to her … she’s a good athlete and she’s also a really good person.”

Grooms never stopped trying to improve, Miller added. “She’s played since she was in second or third grade, and she’s continued every summer,” the coach said. “She wants to be really good, and that’s what it takes.”

Grooms’ career could have been sidetracked a couple of times.

“She had cancer when she was an infant,” Miller said, “and she lost the tip of her finger in junior high. She couldn’t play volleyball as a freshman [because of that tender finger]. She’s overcome some tough issues.”

The partial digit is the ring finger of Grooms’ right hand, and she’s a right-handed player. But to say it doesn’t show up on the court is almost as big an understatement as her coach’s 75-5 comment.

“I had forgotten about it,” said Miller, who also wasn’t sure whether the injured finger was on her star’s right or left hand. “She does what she does.”

Jason Hanson coached Casey for the first time this season, but Brandon Wolfe hadn’t been entirely unfamiliar to him.

“I coached against [Wolfe] my last year at Neoga, when he was a freshman,” said Hanson, who was away from coaching for two seasons because of family priorities, “and I saw he had been playing pretty well [the next two years].”

There were questions, however, the coach admitted.

“I was worried that maybe he wouldn’t play defense,” Hanson recalled recently. “I knew he could shoot the ball, but would he help us on defense or on the boards?”

The answers came quickly.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Hanson said. “From the first day of practice, he bought in and did everything we wanted. He took charges, he jumped on loose balls, whatever.”

The 6-foot-3 Wolfe is still working to finalize a college choice, but the work ethic he’s displayed should serve him well, Hanson predicted.

“He’s certainly good enough offensively; he can fill that role very well,” the coach said. “He’ll have to work on strength and agility and being able to guard somebody, and how well he can do that will determine what level he can play at.”

The versatile 5-11 Grooms is heading to the University of Southern Indiana, where she expects to be a shooting guard or small forward after “playing about every spot” for the Lions.

“It’s always been her goal to play college ball, and it’s nice to see her reap the benefits of her hard work,” Miller said. “I couldn’t be happier for her.”

Grooms is joined on the all-Wabash Valley girls first team by two Terre Haute North seniors, Layne Curley and Adrienne Pritchard, along with sophomore Lauren Hambrock of Terre Haute South and junior Mikayla Rowan of Northview.

Boys first-team selections in addition to Wolfe are Charlie Aimone of North, Timmy Herrin of South, Bryant Jackson of Linton and Ethan Whitson of Northview.

Terre Haute South had the top performers in the other winter sports, with Phoenix Adams the Wrestler of the Year and Katherine Senseman and Christian Wilhelm named Swimmers of the Year.

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