The Nazareth Academy girls basketball team members pose with their second-place trophy from the IHSA Class 3A state championships, where the Roadrunners fell to Carmel High School in the finals. | Bill Stone/Contributor

Starting senior point guard Caroline Workman of LaGrange hoped to be part of the first Nazareth Academy girls basketball state championship team on March 5. As the only senior among the Roadrunners’ usual six-player rotation, Workman sees that title coming soon.

“This is one of the most promising futures team in the entire state,” Workman said. “They’re all so individually talented, but the best thing about them is they come together so well as a team. I’m so excited to see where they go in the future.”

The final goal of the Roadrunners’ most successful overall season was prevented by East Suburban Catholic Conference rival Carmel, which won the IHSA Class 3A state final 43-39 in Normal after Nazareth won both meetings during the regular season.

Trailing 31-27 after three quarters on March 5, Nazareth (33-3) closed to within one point three times in the fourth quarter but never regained the lead and only scored once on its final six possessions.

The Roadrunners set a single-season record for victories and equaled the fewest losses. They previously finished second in their first downstate trip in 2018 and were third in 2019. 

“In the heat of the moment, we’re deeply disappointed but I’m so excited about what these kids have accomplished. Just a magical season,” Nazareth coach Eddie Stritzel said. “We played hard tonight. I don’t know if we played wel,l but a lot of that probably had to do with Carmel. I’m just thrilled about where the program is and where it is headed.” 

A three by Nazareth junior Gracie Carstensen closed the gap to 40-39 with 38 seconds left. After Carmel’s Ashley Schlabowske made one of two free throws with 28.1 seconds, the Roadrunners’ chance to tie or take the lead was prevented when the Corsairs’ Grace Sullivan stole the ball in the corner by the three-point arc. Schlabowske’s two free throws with 11.2 seconds sealed the victory.

“Obviously it motivates us even more. We know we can do better. We didn’t perform our best today,” Nazareth sophomore Amalia Dray said. “We know that in the future we’re going to give every game everything we have and we’re not going to fall short again.”

Carstensen led Nazareth with 11 points, followed by Dray (9 points, 6 rebounds), Workman (8 points) and sophomores Danielle Scully (6 points) and Olivia Austin of Western Springs (5 points). Sophomore Mary Bridget Wilson was the lone player off the bench.  

Nazareth beat Carmel 57-41 during the regular season and 58-47 in the ESCC Tournament final – the Roadrunners’ first varsity ESCC regular-season or tournament title ever. 

This time, behind Bucknell-bound Sullivan (13 points, 13 rebounds) and all-state junior Jordan Wood (12 points), a Michigan State recruit, Carmel led 28-14 in rebounds and only committed 12 turnovers after at least 20 the first two meetings to gain its first title. 

Nazareth turned up the defensive pressure and coerced four turnovers on Carmel’s first six fourth-quarter possessions to close to 35-34 and 37-36 on free throws by Carstensen and Austin, respectively. Carmel had one turnover on its last eight possessions while making six of eight free throws.

“I thought if we could have got the lead, we really could have got to them. We maybe could have broke things open and we were always playing behind,” Stritzel said. 

Carstensen and Dray received honorable mention on the Associated Press 3A All-State team and were joined by Scully on the All-ESCC team. On March 4, Carstensen tied the Class 3A state finals single-game record of six threes in Nazareth’s 55-24 semifinal victory over Morton.  

Workman, who attended Park Junior High, is the lone remaining member from the 2019 trophy team. She next will play basketball at the University of Chicago, where she plans a STEM-oriented major on a pre-med track.

In November, Austin was a member of Nazareth’s first girls volleyball state championship team in her first season on the team. This spring, she plans to join the girls soccer team.

“I have obviously a strong role [in volleyball] but I feel like basketball, especially with less players and more experience on my end, I felt more pressure to perform more,” Austin said. “We were all playing with our full hearts and I think we were playing for each other.”