Sophomore Danni Scully of Nazareth is triple-teamed by Marist in a 53-42 victory in LaGrange Park on Jan. 19. Photo by Jeff Vorva
‘Grizzled’ sophomores help Naz beat Marist
By Jeff Vorva
Nazareth’s “grizzled veterans” have won 19 of their first 20 games.
The Roadrunners’ were victorious in a big East Suburban Catholic Conference showdown with Marist, with two sophomores doing most of the damage in a 53-42 win in LaGrange Park on Jan. 19. Nazareth improved to 19-1, 4-0.
The Roadrunners used a lineup with three sophomores, a junior and senior Caroline Workman, plus a sophomore coming off the bench.
Sophomores Ama Dray scored 16 points and Danni Scully added 14 in the win over the RedHawks.
With the exception of a 46-38 home loss to Sycamore (which opened the season 19-0), the Roadrunners just keep winning. They have played a strong schedule and, so far, have mastered it.
Coach Ed Stritzel, who guided his team to a second-place finish in the state in Class 3A in 2017-18 and a third-place finish the following year, managed to get some work in for these players when they were freshmen as they were 8-4 in the COVID-19-shortened 2020-21 season.
“We got to play 12 games last year,” he said. “They all got experience. I call them grizzled veterans now. They have been through wars, and this schedule is unrelenting and is going to get even tougher.”
The Roadrunners, who also get significant contributions from sophomores Olivia Austin and Mary Bridget Wilson, were ranked seventh in the state in Class 3A according to the Associated Press’ Jan. 12 poll. They have upcoming games with Stevenson (ranked second in Class 4A) and Peoria Notre Dame (sixth in Class 3A), along with the ESCC tournament.
With Geneseo (ranked first in Class 3A), downstate Morton (ranked second), Sycamore (third) and others in the way, it might be a stretch to expect the Roadrunners to win a state title this year. But look out in the next two seasons.
For those looking ahead, Sycamore and Nazareth are in the same sectional at Kaneland.
Meanwhile, the Roadrunners are going to enjoy this year’s run, not matter where it takes them.
“Coming into it we knew if we worked hard, we would be successful,” Dray said. “We’re playing older than we are.”
The team doesn’t get overconfident. It still has young players who have been known to take on older players during the travel basketball season, but they still get excited for big games on the high school level.
“It’s really fun going out there and being a little nervous for the game,” Scully said. “Even coach is a little nervous before games. But we go out there and do what we do best.”
Against Marist, the Roadrunners took a 31-21 halftime lead but scored just six points in the third quarter and led just 37-33.
But they kicked it into gear in the final eight minutes when junior Grace Carstensen and Dray hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give them some breathing room.
Elise Ward led Marist with 23 points but no other RedHawk had more than seven.
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the RedHawks and coach Mary Pat Connelly.
Stritzel said he has respect for Connelly and the Marist program and wonders what could have been for the Chicago school last season.
“I feel bad for her,” he said. “I felt that if there wasn’t COVID, they would have won state last year with [Sydney Affolter]. Mary Pat is doing an amazing job with that team this year.”
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