Nazareth senior Annie Stritzel is one the best players in Illinois. The Harvard commit averaged 25 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists per game last season. (File photo)

When Ed Stritzel was hired to coach the Nazareth Academy girls basketball team in 2016, he envisioned building the program into a powerhouse.

Entering his third season with the Roadrunners, that goal essentially has been accomplished based on last season. In 2017, Nazareth went 31-3 and lost to 55-46 in the IHSA Class 3A state championship game.

So what can the Roadrunners do for an encore? The only place to go up is winning a state title. Whether that happens or not, Stritzel will stay true to his vision of positioning the Roadrunners right at the top for that coveted championship.

“We’re very excited for the long-term goal of building Nazareth into a perennial state power,” said Ed Stritzel.

Take away one quarter of uncharacteristically poor play and Nazareth already could have won state. Leading 41-37 after the third quarter of last year’s 3A state final, the Roadruners went cold as Peoria Richwoods went on an 18-5 run in the fourth quarter to rally for a 55-46 victory.

The Roadrunners’ inability to score in the fourth quarter of the state finals was as unexpected as it was perplexing.

“I think we all were waiting for someone else to do something,” said Annie Stritzel after the game. “We were playing not to lose; we weren’t attacking the basket. I still thought we had it with four minutes left, but we let it slip.”

While that loss was a bitter ending to a dream season, Nazareth has turned the page. Annie Stritzel (Ed’s daughter) returns as one of the best players in the state. The Harvard commit averaged 25 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists per game. The all-state player racked up assorted honors as easily as points, including the 2017 Landmark Female Athlete of the Year at Night of Champions.

With the loss Alyssa Geary and Marissa Metz to graduation last year, Annie Stritzel perhaps will assume more of a leadership role.

Plenty of talent returns this season to complement Stritzel, including Kaylen Evans, a 5-foot-7 junior all-conference performer who averaged 12 points to go with three rebounds and three assists per game last season. She’s attracting college recruiting interest from Division I schools.

Jovanna Martinucci, Sophia Cullotta and Francesca Metz averaged six points apiece last season. They also pass, rebound defend well for the Roadrunners. Senior Laila Rodriguez, who recently signed Trinity Christian College, will contribute as well. Senior Maggie O’Neil and freshman Caroline Workman (both 5-11) add size to the bench.

“We have multiple kids that can score and shoot and an athletic, quick defense,” Ed Stritzel said. “This team has great chemistry. We’re extremely excited for the season as we feel we’re one of top teams once again in Illinois.”