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Grace Berger is a champion. She’ll continue to write her story

Berger is, without a doubt, one of the best basketball players to don the cream and crimson.

Alex Paul

When Teri Moren saw Grace Berger play basketball for the very first time, she had an immediate, concrete takeaway about her future.

“She will be the most skilled player I will ever coach.”

The ball handling.

The now-iconic midrange shot.

The incredible passing.

The competitive edge, the look in her eye when she’s on a court.

The only thing missing? Weightlifting, but Moren knew her staff and has tremendous faith in the program’s player development, a non-issue. The strength, mental and physical, would come with time and Berger’s work ethic.

“Now, everybody wants Grace Berger arms, right?” Moren jokes.

Berger, raised around the heart of basketball country in Louisville, Kentucky, grew up dreaming of playing college basketball in front of vast, cheering home crowds. From having her parents rebound her shots as a little girl to them joining the record-breaking crowds watching her at Assembly Hall, she’s made it happen.

When Berger first joined Indiana back in 2018 the program had just five NCAA Tournament appearances, just two second round advances and a single Big Ten regular season title, back in 1983, to its name.

But the Hoosiers had just won an NIT title in front of a then-record 13,007 fans at home. A foundation was being built, and Indiana had plenty of room to build on it.

Berger believed.

She believed in Moren’s vision and all the Hoosiers were out to accomplish when she chose to join Indiana years ago. She wanted to make sure she was a part of it all, and so she has.

Indiana went 21-13 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten in 2018-19, Berger’s freshman year in Bloomington. She averaged 5.5 points with four starts on the year, adding 11 points in Indiana’s season-ending loss to Oregon in the second round of the Tournament. The program averaged 3,920 fans in attendance per game.

Now, as a senior, the Hoosiers are Berger’s team with a 26-1 overall record, a No. 2 ranking in the AP Poll, a likely No. 1 seed in the Tournament and, for the first time in 40 years, a Big Ten regular season Championship. The program has set attendance record after attendance record this season as well, ending the run with a 17,222 sellout.

The same little girl who grew tall shooting hoops in the driveway just south of the Indiana-Kentucky border can look up into the stands and see dozens of girls wearing a No. 34 jersey or a sweater with her likeness emblazoned across the chest.

On the coach that helped bring her there, Berger had plenty of praise to give in a prerecorded speech played in Assembly Hall following the game.

“Thank you to Coach Moren for modeling what strong woman looks like from the first day that I stepped on campus,” Berger said. “Thank you for showing up every single day to push me to be the best student, athlete and person that I could be. You are truly one of the greatest to ever do it and I will forever feel so fortunate for the relationship that I have built with you. The best decision that I ever made was when I chose to play for you.”

She gave similar praise to associate head coaches Rhet Wierzba and Glenn Box, with the latter being Berger’s position coach throughout her time in Bloomington.

Then there are Berger’s teammates, the ones who’ve been on the court with her through good times and bad. Tournament wins and losses. Sydney Parrish has been in Bloomington for a single year, but erupted with praise when asked about what Berger means to Indiana.

“Not a lot of players come around like she is,” Parrish said with a smile. “I’ve been super, super grateful to be able to play with her but we are not done yet. We’re excited for the rest of the year.”

Through all of that success, the only thing that’s been on Berger’s mind is that Indiana hadn’t done a thing yet. Wins are nice, but they’re nothing without a payoff, and Berger let everyone throughout the program know as much on a weekly basis, Moren said.

Now, with a championship in hand thanks in no small part to the skinny kid she saw play all those years ago, the normally cool, stoic Moren became emotional in the press conference after the game.

“I think one of the greatest gifts you can give somebody is belief,” Moren said as tears began to flow. “Five, six years ago maybe, she believed in this program. She believed in me and the vision. For that I’ll always be grateful because that’s what it takes”

As Berger joined Moren on the court for postgame festivities, her coach took the time to tell her they’d finally done something. In the same breath, she said they aren’t done.

There’s so much more to do from here.