Grace Carstensen brings leadership and experience as the lone senior and a returning starter for the Nazareth Academy girls basketball team.

Even she felt tension standing at the free-throw line with 3.7 seconds left in the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament on Dec. 30.

“I was so nervous, I was shaking. It was pretty intense,” Carstensen said.

Carstensen sank both free throws and the Roadrunners, last year’s IHSA Class 3A state runners-up, earned a hard-fought 62-58 victory over Class 4A power Whitney Young.

Carstensen, who had 18 points, and junior Amalia Dray were named first-team all-tournament and freshman Stella Sakalas was second-team. 

The Roadrunners (14-1) are undefeated against Illinois teams, only losing to Notre Dame Academy (Green Bay, Wisconsin) 64-38 on Dec. 3. Last year, the Roadrunners were 3-0 at Montini but with multiple teams dropping out because of COVID-19, no team was declared champion.

“It was pretty special [to win this title]. That’s a tournament that I grew up going to, and I know all of the other girls grew up and thinking of playing in front of a packed gym,” Carstensen said. “Not many teams get in a big game like that, so it was a lot of fun.” 

Nazareth was enjoying a 10-point halftime lead that grew to 48-29 midway in the third quarter, but the Dolphins (11-4) tied the game in the last 30 seconds at 58 behind 18 of the 24 points by Missouri recruit Skylar Jones, who was playing with four fouls.

With 15 seconds to go, Nazareth junior Olivia Austin scored a putback off junior Danielle Scully’s missed shot. After Young missed a three, Carstensen rebounded and was fouled to make the clinching free throws.

“We never felt comfortable. Whitney Young is so talented,” Nazareth coach Eddie Stritzel said. “We played really well the last minute and a half, made every correct play.” 

The Roadrunners return four starters – Carstensen, Austin, Dray and Scully – and last season’s top reserve, junior Mary Bridget Wilson, and have added three talented freshmen – Sakalas, 6-foot-2 Jane Manecke and Lyla Shelton.

Nazareth also had an impressive 65-45 semifinal win on Dec. 29 over third-place Montini (11-3) on its home court and beat St. Charles East 61-26 on Dec. 28 and Metea Valley 53-15 on Dec. 27.

Nazareth boys 2-2 at Tosh Tourney

The Roadrunners (6-8) finished 2-2 at York’s Jack Tosh Tournament, beating Minooka 50-48 on Dec. 29 and Leo 46-41 on Dec. 28 after losing to Wheaton North 53-36 on Dec. 27 and Yorkville 54-28 on Dec. 26.