Sacred Heart starter excelling early, excited about IU
By Daniel Karell
With Jaelynn Penn and Lindsey Duvall graduated, the baton for the best Louisville Metro-area girls basketball player has been passed to Grace Berger.
A four-year starter for Sacred Heart, Berger has raised her game to new levels in 2017. After leading the Valkyries to the Kentucky Sweet 16 in 2016, the 6 foot senior guard signed her Letter of Intent to play for Indiana University next fall (where she’ll team up with Penn) and has begun dominating the local circuit.
Through six games this season, Berger is averaging 16.3 points and eight rebounds per game, leading the Valkyries to a 5-1 record ahead of the team’s annual Christmas basketball road trip. Once again, Sacred Heart is heading to Phoenix, Arizona, for the Nike Tournament of Champions.
Ahead of the trip to Arizona, Daniel Karell of Extol Sports had a chance to talk to Berger about her career, how her season is going and what she’s looking forward to at Indiana. (Editor’s Note: The following has been edited solely for length and clarity.)
Extol Sports: Grace, thanks so much for speaking with us. What are your thoughts on the way Sacred Heart’s season is going so far?
Grace Berger: I think it’s going pretty well for being pretty early in the season. Obviously, we have stuff to work on as a team, but we can be beating teams pretty well. I think we’ve started off strong.
ES: How long have you been playing basketball?
GB: I’ve pretty much been around basketball all my life. Some of my earliest memories are playing basketball, just watching my older siblings (Abby and Jack) and my dad (Todd) outside shooting hoops, so I was always out there with them from the time I could walk. I think I pretty much played it to be like them when I first started, and then I fell in love with it.
ES: When did you realize you were good enough to play college basketball?
GB: I think probably when I started getting recruited, so like eighth grade, around there. The first coaching staff that I ever talked to was from Clemson in eighth grade. I didn’t even know what high school I was going to (at the time). I didn’t really think much of it, I didn’t think about college then. My parents and my coaches did a really good job (controlling the recruiting process) too.
ES: What did IU do to convince you to become a Hoosier?
GB: From the first time I stepped foot on campus I fell in love and felt really comfortable there. I fell in love with the school and just surrounding myself with great people, the coaches and other players too.
ES: Which coach has had the most influence on your career?
GB: I would have to say my dad (Todd, a St. Xavier High School graduate who played college basketball at Transylvania University). He’s had the biggest impact on me. He always coached me growing up and he’s always taking me outside and working on my dribbling and shooting one-on-one, too. He’s definitely been very influential.
ES: Every year you lead or are near the team-lead in rebounding for Sacred Heart, even though you’re a guard. How are you able to pull down so many rebounds?
GB: My dad has always really been on me about rebounds. He doesn’t really care about anything else but rebounding. I’m just really aggressive and if you try harder than the other team, you can get it, especially in high school.
ES: How influential has (Sacred Heart coach) Donna Moir been for your career?
GB: She obviously has a lot of experience and she’s taught me a lot for sure. She’s definitely developed me mentally in the way I think of the game and helped me with my skills and basketball IQ as well.
ES: After a frustrating sophomore season, the Valkyries turned the corner last season to become Seventh Region champions and make the Kentucky Sweet 16. What was that experience like?
GB: It was great but we lost the first round of state (Sacred Heart fell to fellow Louisville power Butler, 50-36), so that put a damper on things. But it was definitely a good experience and I think we’re excited to carry that momentum into this season and take what we could have done differently last season to a state champ this year.
ES: What part of your game did you work on the most this offseason?
GB: I’d say catch and shoot, especially 3-pointers, because I didn’t do a very good job last season, I had a low percentage. That was the area of my game where I felt I had to improve and it’s working so far.
ES: Has Indiana women’s basketball coach Teri Moren and her staff been in touch about what they want you to improve on as well?
GB: Definitely, three pointers was something they pointed out to me, too, and just getting stronger and better overall.
ES: With Sacred Heart another year older and one of the most experienced teams in the state, do you feel the Valkyries are strong enough to make a deep run at the Kentucky Sweet 16?
GB: I think we’re the best team in the state, I think we have the most experience and when we’re playing together, I don’t think there’s many teams that can beat us. So, I think we have a good chance.
ES: Looking ahead, what are your plans for when you’ll finally head to Bloomington, and what are you most looking forward to?
GB: I think I’ll leave in June and do summer workouts for a couple of weeks. I’m just looking forward to being surrounded by great people every day. I think they’re going to make me better on and off the court, and it’s just going to be a lot of fun to be around them.
ES: Last thing. Is it motivating to see Penn starting and playing so well at Indiana as a freshman (Penn has started all 10 of Indiana’s games, averaging 10 points, six rebounds and two assists per game)?
GB: Yeah, I hope to have as good a start as Jaelynn has. I’m just really looking forward to learning from her and playing with her.
“FROM THE FIRST TIME I STEPPED FOOT ON INDIANA UNIVERSITY’S CAMPUS, I FELL IN LOVE AND FELT REALLY COMFORTABLE THERE. I FELL IN LOVE WITH THE SCHOOL AND JUST SURROUNDING MYSELF WITH GREAT PEOPLE, THE COACHES AND OTHER PLAYERS TOO.” – GRACE BERGER