Nazareth guard Jovanna Martinucci, one of the Roadrunners' top players, is known for her leadership and clutch play in big moments of games. (File photo)

Although the Nazareth Academy girls basketball team lost its final game last season, some perspective is needed. No team wants to drop its last game; however, the Roadrunners’ 55-46 loss against Peoria Richwoods occurred in the Class 3A state championship game.

Additionally, the Roadrunners recorded the best season in program history with a 31-3 record. The team had a historic season with plenty of motivation to take the last step to a state title.

Despite the departures of top players like Alyssa Geary and Marissa Metz to graduation, Nazareth has predictably picked up right where it left off last season.

The Roadrunners are 9-0 with most of their victories coming in blowout fashion. However, the team has shown its mettle as well with victories against teams like Montini (47-40), St. Ignatius (47-45) and Phillips (47-40).

“We’re very happy thus far that we’ve beaten three top-ranked teams in Illinois,” coach Eddie Stritzel said. “Our style of play is hectic so we have to keep focused on the end goal as we make little mistakes in the short term, but we feel that there are long-term benefits to our style of play.”

Against St. Ignatius at the ESCC/GCAC Shootout hosted by Loyola Academy, senior Annie Stritzel (Ed’s daughter) scored a game-high 27 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter. Strizel, one of the best players in the state, is averaging 24 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals per game. She’s committed to Harvard.

In addition to Stritzel, several players produced timely plays against the Wolfpack. Nazareth junior Francesca Metz made a clutch 3-pointer that put Nazareth ahead for good with about a minute left tin the fourth quarter. Metz has played well this winter, scoring seven points and pulling down five boards per game.

Eddie Stritzel offered praise about other players.

“[Senior guard] Jovanna Martinucci played a wonderful floor game (against St. Ignatius),” he said. “Freshman Caroline Workman’s length and athleticism has made a huge impact on the defensive end. We’re very happy that we’re developing Caroline because she’s going to be very special as time goes on.”

In another notable victory, Stritzel had 27 points and nine rebounds against Phillips. Martinucci contributed 13 points for the victors.

“We’re very battle tested and the team continues to play free when the game is on the line,” Eddie Stritzel said. “I believe that’s because of the leadership of Annie and Jovanna.”

The Roadrunners also feature Kaylen Evans. She’s a 5-foot-7 junior all-conference performer who averages 11 points per game.

“Kaylen Evans is our second leading scorer and is really coming into her own.” Eddie Stritzel said. “She is a tough kid to guard as she can take it to the basket or from deep. Kaylen will be playing at the next level.”

Sophia Cullotta (6 points per game), Laila Rodriguez and Maggie O’Neill are other contributors with experience.