Nazareth Academy girls basketball player junior Amalia Dray recently made a verbal commitment to play soccer at Boston College.
During a one-minute span of the IHSA Class 3A Concordia University Supersectional on Feb. 27, Dray displayed her full-court sprinting talents to complete the efforts of the Roadrunners’ often tenacious defense.
Her eight points off four consecutive steals sparked the Roadrunners’ decisive spurt in a 53-20 victory over Fenwick for a return downstate trip to the state semifinals.
“For sure, it’s a lot of back and forth, like soccer,” said Dray, whose game-high 21 points was just shy of her personal best. “Everybody just knows to look up as far as we can down the court because that’s how we get so many breakaway layups.”
Nazareth (33-1), the top-rated team in Class 3A, surges into the 10 a.m. state semifinal on March 3 in Normal against Peoria (28-3) riding a 28-game winning streak.
The winner plays Lincoln (35-0) or Deerfield (29-5) for the state championship at 5:30 p.m. on March 4 or for third place at 7 p.m. on March 3.
The Roadrunners also are undefeated in Illinois, losing only 64-38 to Notre Dame Academy of Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Dec. 3.
Senior and DePaul recruit Grace Carstensen (8 points, 2 threes, 5 steals), juniors Olivia Austin (8 points), Danni Scully (4 steals, 4 assists) and Mary Bridget Wilson (3 points, 3 assists) and freshman reserve Stella Sakalas (8 points, 2 threes) also contributed to the supersectional victory.
With four returning starters and Wilson, last season’s first player off the bench, the Roadrunners know all too well anything still can happen.
Last season, they finished second in state, losing to East Suburban Catholic Conference rival Carmel 43-39 after winning both regular-season meetings. The Roadrunners also finished second in 2018 and third in 2019.
“I think that’s what really lifts us up the most is that we don’t want to be in that position again, losing a championship that we easily could have won,” Dray said. “We’re going to treat every game like it’s our last game. Last year, we let it slip but this year, we’re in it to win it.”
Fenwick (19-17) took a 6-4 lead but Nazareth scored the last 10 points of the first quarter to lead 18-8.
With Nazareth leading 28-14 at halftime, the Friars scored the first two baskets of the third quarter before the Roadrunners’ defense burst into action. Dray stole the ball and scored on a layup and followed with two more layups off back-to-back steals by Scully and Carstensen.
Dray nearly had a fourth consecutive layup off another Carstensen steal but was fouled driving to the basket and hit both free throws for a 37-18 lead. The Roadrunners increased the margin to 46-20 after three quarters.
Nazareth’s 15 steals were half of Fenwick’s 29 turnovers.
“The half-court trap was just sensational. [Dray] was all over the place,” Nazareth coach Eddie Stritzel said.