Girls basketball: Amalia Dray, Nazareth blow past Benet

Dray scores 16 points, gets 5 of Roadrunners’ 15 steals in 51-33 win

Nazareth's Amalia Dray (left) goes to the basket while being double teamed by Benet's Magdalena Sularski (33) and Aria Mazza during a game on Dec. 13, 2023 at Benet Academy in Lisle.

LISLE – Amalia Dray has not yet cemented her basketball legacy at Nazareth, but her coach already has the 5-foot-9 senior guard in rarefied air.

“I’ve been coaching a long time and the other day at home my daughter and son said, ‘Coach, give me your all-time starting five,’ ” said Nazareth’s Eddie Stritzel, who has won more than 400 games in 16-plus seasons. “I looked at them and said, ‘Wow, there are some really good players.’ I kept trying to figure out my fifth and it’s her.

“Ama is irreplaceable. I’ve never seen a motor like hers. It never stops.”

Dray, who will play soccer at Boston College, is the head of a Nazareth defense that gives opponents fits with its ball pressure.

It did Dec. 13 at Benet, and Dray’s shotmaking pulled Nazareth out of some early offensive doldrums. Dray hit three first-half 3-pointers and had five of the Roadrunners’ 15 steals in a 51-33 win over Benet in the East Suburban Catholic Conference.

Dartmouth recruit Olivia Austin scored a game-high 20 points, 16 in the second half, and had eight rebounds. Sophomore Stella Sakalas scored 10 points for Nazareth (6-2, 2-1), which bounced back from a rare loss – to Marian Catholic – in a big way. Nazareth forced 20 turnovers and held Benet (6-4, 2-1) without a field goal for an 11-minute stretch in the first half to lead 20-8 at halftime.

“We didn’t shoot very well at Marian or play very well,” Dray said. “We wanted to get back to our roots tonight where defense leads to our offense, not just getting steals but forcing teams into turnovers.”

Nazareth, led by the guard tandem of Dray and Mary Bridget Wilson, does plenty of that. Freshman Sophia Towne came off the bench to add four steals.

“MB and I have been playing defense in the 2-3 since we were in sixth grade on our AAU team,” Dray said. “We read off of each other, play off of each other. Dani [Scully] is a beast in the middle, Olivia shooting in the passing lanes. It’s an irreplaceable group.”

Dray, who was at a soccer tournament during Nazareth’s only other loss to Downers Grove North, sure is irreplaceable. She scored eight of Nazareth’s 10 second-quarter points with back-to-back 3-pointers in the final three minutes of the half. Austin then turned it on after halftime.

“They’re the same kids, Olivia, Ama. I’m really lucky to have such a group,” Stritzel said. “Ama, she’s a one-man wrecking crew.”

Nazareth's Olivia Austin (21) shoots over Benet's Emma Briggs during a game on Dec. 13, 2023 at Benet Academy in Lisle.

Nazareth already has two more in-state losses than it did during the entirety of last season, when it won the Class 3A state championship.

The Roadrunners are going deep into their bench with youth this season, which lends to growing pains. But Stritzel believes the payoff could be huge as Nazareth plays up in Class 4A this year.

“We feel we have a chance to, I think, be a little better than last year because we’re deeper,” Stritzel said. “Last year we played six kids. We’re playing eight to 10. With that comes a learning curve with the young kids, but the upside is good.

“Tonight I thought was our best game of the year. I keep telling the girls we’re going to keep getting better and better, can’t look at the record. I love our upside.”

Benet coach Joe Kilbride, likewise, wasn’t looking at the result Dec. 13 as much as the process. Emilia Sularski scored nine points on three second-half 3-pointers to lead Benet, which struggled to navigate the maze of Nazareth’s active zone defense.

Nazareth's Stella Sakalas grabs a rebound in front of Benet's Bridget Rifenburg (22) during a game on Dec. 13, 2023 at Benet Academy in Lisle.

“You can’t turn it over like we did. We were backing up and I’m not exactly sure why,” Kilbride said. “It’s not a physical thing. The effort is good, but we’re playing afraid and I’m not exactly sure why. They [the Roadrunners] do a nice job, they’re long and athletic, but there really is no reason to throw the ball around the gym like that.”

Benet’s four losses, to Batavia, Kenwood, Maine South and Nazareth, are all against quality opponents. Kilbride’s concern is with his group’s approach.

“We talk about being dogs, not kitty cats,” he said. “I feel like at times we’re on our back feet. We’re young, we’re figuring some things out. I really like this group. I’m disappointed because that’s not who we are. We’re better than that.”

Joshua  Welge

Joshua Welge

I am the Sports Editor for Kendall County Newspapers, the Kane County Chronicle and Suburban Life Media, covering primarily sports in Kendall, Kane, DuPage and western Cook counties. I've been covering high school sports for 24 years. I also assist with our news coverage.