Ever since the fifth grade, Grace Hilber has had a nose for the basketball.
The senior point guard from Sun Prairie made the All-Big Eight Conference first team and honorable mention All-State in her final season with the Cardinals, and in addition, made the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Girls Division 1 South roster.
Though Hilber spent the week practicing and hanging out with her Division 1 South teammates, she did not participate in Friday's game because it conflicted with Sun Prairie's graduation ceremonies.
"When I got the call, I was very happy," . It was a big accomplishment and great way to end my high school career,” said Grace, “I was very happy to just be a part of it and experience it with other girls from Wisconsin.”
Hilber led the Cardinals in four statistical categories: Scoring (14 points per game), free throw percentage (79 percent), 3-point baskets made (32), and assists (3.7 per game) in her fourth year on the varsity.
But bringing the ball up the court isn’t something new to Hilber this year.
Sun Prairie head coach John Olson, who just completed his ninth season with the girls varsity program, recalls watching Hilber play basketball at Sacred Heart Catholic School.
“I said that back then, that little fifth-grade, blonde-haired girl is going to play varsity basketball," Olson said. "She was a good little basketball player and could handle the ball well. Sure enough, she worked her way up through the ranks and got better and better.”
The Cardinals enjoyed three consecutive 20-victory seasons, making it to the WIAA Division 1 sectionals each season and coming within one win of a trip to the state semifinals — a feat the program has not achieved since 1997.
But Hilber was able to achieve a state berth in a different sport: softball.
The Cardinals reached the WIAA state tournament each of the past three seasons, and Hilber was a part of two of those teams. After winning the Division 1 championship last season, Sun Prairie followed it up with a runner-up finish last week, with Hilber as the starting first baseman. She had an RBI groundout in a semifinal win over Pulaski that helped propel the Cardinals to another shot at the trophy.
“It was really cool (playing) at night. We were all pretty hyped to be under the lights,” Hilber said.
Hilber also participated in volleyball her freshman year, track during her junior year, and tennis for her last three high school years. In doing so, it made her Sun Prairie’s 2019 female athlete of the year.
And even though she only started playing AAU summer basketball after her freshman year, she was perfectly OK with it.
“Some people start in fifth grade and kind of fall out of the sport, because it’s the only sport they play. I keep myself grounded by playing other sports.
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“It’s very important to me. From Day One, my dad would always encourage me to play multiple sports in high school. Being in a variety of sports helps you be better at the sports you like and can succeed in.”
Not only did the multitude of sports build up her body strength, but they developed her leadership skills, which were evident during the basketball season.
After losing senior wing Elle Moore to a torn meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament injury, Hilber had to step up.
“I could’ve rested Grace a little bit more, substitution-wise, but with Elle gone, those minutes (on the bench) were less and less,” said Olson.
“I’m not the loudest leader, but I try to keep my teammates high up and positive," Hilber said. "I never let them get down on themselves. I didn’t think I had to carry my team, but when I had the opportunity, I had to take it.”
And at 5 feet, 6 inches, she ranked fourth or better on the team's rebounding chart since sophomore year.
Said Olson: “Rebounding was really a plus with her. S she was sometimes our leading rebounder,” Olson said
“I really like hustle part of the game, I’m always waiting for balls to come out and hustle when other people are tired. It shows how much passion someone has for the sport,” stated Hilber.
Being the main distributor for the offense came naturally to Hilber.
“She had the ability to penetrate against any defense and push the ball down the floor. She could go in among the biggest players of the team and she would pull up and shoot over them,” Olson said.
Grace also took care of the ball well at point.
“If they can pressure that (position), they can disrupt something. And that’s something you can’t see in a box score,” Olson said.
She hit 750 points, 300 rebounds, 206 assists, and 151 steals at Sun Prairie.
Grace will continue playing this fall at Lewis University, an NCAA Division II private school in Romeoville, Illinois, that plays in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.
She will face up in conference play against her former teammate, Jayda Jansen, now at Maryville University in St. Louis.
Jansen, Sun Prairie’s all-time leading scorer, made a lasting impact on Hilber.
“With Jayda being a small point guard like me, and playing behind her all three years, I definitely learned a lot from her,” Hilber said.