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Grace Barry can still generate "oohs" and "aahs" with her passing skills on the basketball court.

Those who watched her slice dimes through defenses at Lincoln East know that side of Barry very well.

Concordia is getting the full effect now.

"She's got a couple behind-the-back passes and no-look passes that you're just … everybody in the stands is like, 'Whoa, did you see that!?' Concordia coach Drew Olson says.

"Yeah, she's pretty fun to watch."

Barry's scoring prowess is starting to catch up to her passing artistry, and it's a big reason why the top-ranked Concordia women have not missed a beat this season.

In her first season with the Bulldogs, the Nebraska-Kearney transfer is averaging 11.1 points per game on 46 percent shooting.

Barry's growth as an offensive threat was seen in the Great Plains Athletic Conference Tournament final against Dakota Wesleyan. After the coaches challenged the 5-foot-7 point guard at halftime to be more aggressive, Barry scored 12 of her team-high 18 points in the fourth quarter, and Concordia won.

"Her game is unique," Olson said. "She's one of the best passers, ball-handlers, her vision, her creativity is better than pretty much anybody that we've had the opportunity to coach here. The thing that I love about her is she's coachable, she's willing to hear what we say and get that challenge."

Concordia lost four talented guards from last season's team that reached the NAIA Division II national championship game. Waverly graduate Taylor Cockerill was among those on the roster to step into a starting role this season. Barry filled another when she decided she needed a change after two seasons at Nebraska-Kearney.

"I had a good experience at UNK, but I was looking for something different in more personal aspects, and I wanted to really find an awesome place with great people," Barry said. "That was my big focus.

"I wanted to play great basketball, but I always wanted to be around great people, and I think I really found that fit here at Concordia."

Barry spent the summer in Seward, taking advantage of open gym sessions with her new teammates. She and Cockerill would play one-one-one every day, and the meshing with her new teammates began well ahead of the season-opener.

"We just fell in love with playing with each other, and it was kind of awesome, because I've never clicked quite so much playing with different people," said Barry, who received second-team all-GPAC honors.

Concordia returned standout forwards Philly Lammers and Quinn Wragge. With Cockerill, the team's leading scorer at 15.1 points per game, and Barry in the starting lineup, the Bulldogs were able to tweak their offensive planning, incorporating a lot more dribble-drive action.

Olson said the Bulldogs adapt around their top offensive players every year.

"We figure out what are the cards we've been dealt and how are these pieces going to fit together, and try to put them in a position for them to be all successful," said Olson, who has led Concordia to the NAIA Tournament in 11 of his 13 seasons. "I think at Concordia, we do a pretty good job of giving our kids freedom, and that's what Grace needs. 

"She needed somebody to cut her loose and also encourage her to be aggressive to score."

While Barry has expanded her repertoire, passing and defense remain her biggest strengths. She led the GPAC in both assists per game (5.82) and steals per game (3.70). Barry credits her high school coach, Dennis Prichard, for stressing the fundamentals and working with her on her passing before college.

"I loved to pass and I love to watch NBA," Barry said. "So I've always been watching Steph Curry, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, all of them are such great passers … Pistol Pete (Maravich). I just love that part of basketball."

Barry also loves the opportunity that stands in front of her and her Concordia teammates. The Bulldogs are among the top contenders for the NAIA championship. The tournament starts Wednesday in Sioux City, Iowa. The Bulldogs (30-3) will play Wilberforce (14-12) in the opening round at noon Wednesday.

"It's definitely gone beyond my expectations," Barry says of her first year at Concordia. "(It's) everything I could have hoped for. The people that I've been around, the coaching staff, they truly are the type of people that you would want around your kids and I just love them all so much. I'm so excited that I've had this opportunity."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

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