The Class 3A girls basketball state champs celebrated on Monday at Nazareth Academy. (Photos by Steve Metsch)
Nazareth girls ‘seal the deal,’ share state title glow at rally
By Steve Metsch
The girls’ basketball team at Nazareth Academy did indeed live up to its slogan.
Head Coach Eddie Stritzel said that after finishing second to Carmel in Class 3A one year ago, the team’s slogan for the 2022-23 season was “seal the deal.”
“That’s great,” he said. “But with it comes a lot of pressure.”
“You could have a successful season and not win the state championship. After the state title game, they said, ‘We sealed the deal.’ It was great.”
The Roadrunners completed a 35-1 season with a 63-52 win on March 4 at Illinois State University. Lincoln entered the game with a 36-0 record.
On Monday morning in La Grange Park, the team basked in the championship glow with approximately 800 fellow students during a pep rally in the school gym.
Senior and team captain Grace Carstensen – holding the trophy that included a net from the title bout – led the team into the gym while students, teachers, staff and parents roared their approval.
After each girl hugged Nazareth President Deborah Tracy and Nazareth Principal Therese Hawkins, Stritzel, Carstensen and Olivia Austin spoke.
“I’ll try to be quick. I know you guys all want to go back to your classes,” Stritzel quipped.
Stritzel said he had no magical solution that led to winning state in Nazareth’s third appearance in a championship game, but thought strength of schedule a role in preparing the girls for a long, tough season.
“We play everyone, whether it’s 3A or 4A. We’ve seen multiple Division I kids play,” he said.
Winning the title “was a wonderful experience for the girls, for me.”
“I know Lincoln brought their entire city, but I thought that as the game went on, our crowd was actually louder,” Stritzel said.
He thanked his wife “for letting me do what I do.”
Carstensen, he said, was key to the team’s success this season.
“From Day One, you’ve been the most loyal, hard-working kid. It gets me inspired. Six months ago, you didn’t know where this thing was headed. Not just with Nazareth, but with your college future,” he said.
“I don’t know if a senior could ever cap a career better than by winning a state championship, (playing) three times downstate, and then going to play for DePaul (University),” he said.
With Carstensen the only senior on the Roadrunners roster, the future is bright.
“The program is in a great spot going forward and we’re going to try like heck to be here next year and get you guys out of classes one more time,” Stritzel said.
Carstensen and Austin thanked the Nazareth community for its strong support throughout the season.
“We appreciate everyone for making the trip down (to Normal),” Austin said.
“Coach Eddie has been a key to our success and we’d like to thank him,” Austin addedCarstensen “made this team a true family,” Austin said, with her “constant support and friendship. … She will be greatly missed.”
Carstensen said “we’ll always treasure the memories and friendships created within the Naz basketball program.”
Hawkins received one of the biggest cheers when she announced in keeping with a Nazareth tradition when a team wins state, there’s a day off from school.
That day will be April 17, adding a day to spring break, she said as students cheered.
The team has been a pleasure the entire season, she said.
“They have really demonstrated class, grace, determination, hard work. So proud of them,” Hawkins said.
As the girls posed for a team picture on the bleachers, Stritzel said the tough schedule paid off.
Nazareth’s lone loss was to Notre Dame Academy from Green Bay, a Wisconsin state champ in 2022, 2021, 2014 and 2013.
“It was good for us to play a good team like that,” Stritzel said.
The Roadrunners’ memorable 2022-23 season saw the team win the East Suburban Catholic Conference, Stritzel post the 400th win of his coaching career and Carstensen surpass 1,000 career points.
Before the rally, former Nazareth Athletic Director Dennis Moran pointed up to the vacant south wall of the gymnasium and smiled.
“There’s room for more,” Moran said of championship banners, noting the school’s football and baseball teams are also defending state champs.
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