1. Nazareth (35-1, 3A Champs)
Olivia Austin took on a unique role in making the Nazareth Roadrunners the No. 1 team in the state of Illinois in the 2022-2023 season.
While Grace Carstensen was the 1st team all-state performer (AP and IBCA), she was the known commodity. But between a group of seasoned juniors and emerging freshmen — Stella Sakalas, Lyla Shelton and Jane Manecke could play bigger roles next season as sophomores — Nazareth’s depth is ludicrous.
With all of that said, Austin was the best kept secret in coach Ed Stritzel’s mind entering the season.
“I’ve been training a lot with Byron (Xerxes Livsey) and I’ve been doing a lot of things outside practice, working on my free throws… I’ve just been trying to get my touches to improve around the rim and get my shots to start falling.”
Last Saturday in the semis and state final, Austin’s abilities were on full display, with Austin’s impact as big as anyone’s in determining one of the 4 state team champions.
“Her athleticism is off the charts,” Nazareth Academy coach Ed Stritzel said. “Some people see this big girl and think she’s just an inside post, but she is such a problem. Her speed is ridiculous and now she is starting to clean up her ball-handling.”
Austin scored 23 points with 12 rebounds and 3 assists after a 9-point,12-rebound effort vs. Peoria and her team had a positive +/- of 24 when she was on the floor vs. Peoria.
“It’s amazing we have complete trust in each other,” Austin said. “That’s want makes our team so strong. If one of us isn’t having the best game the other spick her up and we just everyone, there’s no agendas as coach likes to say. The team goal is most important.”
Nazareth Academy won every game it played against Illinois teams, despite a daunting schedule.
“Sometimes I think the schedule was too much for a 3A school but I think it paid off tonight,” Stritzel said of the title game win.
Top returning player should be Austin, but Danielle Scully really showed out at state as well.
Come the 2023-2024 season, which Austin will play in after two more (expected) high school sports seasons of soccer and volleyball, no one should be caught off guard by the to-be senior post star.
Best Wins: Fremd, Lincoln, Peoria, Deerfield, Carmel (Twice, held to 40 over 2 wins over Corsairs), Montini, Whitney Young, Benet)
2. O’Fallon (34-4, 4A State champs)
The 4A champions made a magical run through the tournament on the backs of one of the state’s best duos in Shannon Dowell and Jailah Petty. Both made play after play in a tight game with Benet Academy. Ended season on 14-game win streak.
What enabled them to be state champs was the number of athletes able to play critical roles. Between Dowell and Pelly being one of the state’s better duos,
D’Myjah Bolds (rebounder/rim protector) or Josie Christopher(shooter, hard-nosed defender) Laylah Jackson contributing where needed, senior and future Wester Illinois softball player Malia Robertson providing steady minutes and Haeli Tart (2026) providing a glimpse into the future, this Panthers team provided quite a look of what a well-rounded team could be.
Best Wins: Benet (title game), Alton (Twice), Peoria, Mater Dei (by 20), Normal, Bolingbrook, Hersey (Semis by 17).
3. Alton (31-2)
Was playing at the level of a top 3 team in the state all season, only two losses were to eventual state champion O’Fallon on O’Fallon’s floor. Also beat the Panthers twice.
The Redbirds return much of their talent, and I’m going to say Kiyoko Proctor should be the top returner that people should look out for.
Best Wins: Mater Dei (Twice), O’Fallon (Twice), Okawville, Vashon (MO.), Hersey.
4. Benet Academy (25-8, 4A State Runner-Up)
The Redwings found the winning formula needed after a season of winning close games against good teams, ultimately beating both Kenwood in the super-sectional game and Geneva in the state semifinals by one possession in games that came down to Redwings points on their respective last positions.
Leading returner should be Emilia Sularski, but young talent should emerge as well.
Best Wins: Geneva (Semis), Montini, Kenwood (Quarters), Lake Zurich
5. Geneva (31-4, 3rd Place in 4A)
As team-oriented as team-oriented comes.
Plenty of players that can be the leading scorer of the star of the night any given nights. Going 14-0 in the DuKane is no joke.
Leading returner should be Leah Palmer.
Best wins: Hersey (3rd Place), Fremd (Morton College Xmas), Lake Zurich, Deerfield.
6. Lincoln (36-1, 3A Runner-Up)
Went into state title game with Nazareth undefeated. Kloe Froebe unquestionably one of best players in state and returns next year along with four other Class of 2024 Railsplitters who started in championship game.
Best Wins: Deerfield, Peoria, Mahomet-Seymour (Twice), Byron (beat state finalist in 2A by 44).
7. Hersey (28-10, 4th Place in 4A)
Got red-hot at the end of coach Mary Fendley’s tenure. Katy Eidle was one of best players in state for the last few years.
Best returner should be Annika Manthy or Kiki Craft.
Best Wins: Fremd, Maine South (twice), Libertyville, (Twice) Benet Academy.
8. Fremd (30-3)
Was one of top teams in state all season, dropped to a red-hot Hersey squad in the postseason mater beating them 2 weeks prior.
Best returner should be 4A all-state performer Ella Todd.
Best Wins: Lake Zurich (Twice), Hersey (MSL Title Game), Maine South, Montini, Benet Academy, Kenwood, Barrington (Twice), Geneva)
9. Kenwood (30-5)
Made CPL title game for second straight year, was one possession away from making 4A state. Danielle Brooks or Arielle Henigan should be top perfomrer. Just a freshman, Brooks was ready for the big moments.
Best Wins: Whitney Young (Twice, also lost to them once), Saint Ignatius (by 32), Lafayette (LA)
10. Whitney Young (26-6)
Won city championship for second consecutive year, Skylar Jones was one of state’s top players.
Leading returner Destiny Jackson may be the city of Chicago’s best player entering next season.
Best Wins: Lyons (Twice), York,Hersey, Kenwood (Lost Twice)
11. Okawville (34-4, 1A State Champs)
Surely has one of the best resumes of any 1A team in recent memory, having beaten 2 state champs. How often can you say a team from the smallest class has beaten the largest class state championship?
Dominated at 1A state semis and title game. I don’t know that I’d pick them to beat some f theta’s they’re in front of, but they beat some of the best teams in the state. That speaks volumes any which way you cut it.
Best Wins: O’Fallon, Mater Dei (Twice), Galena, Christopher.
12. Bolingbrook (27-4)
Wasn’t as tested by in-state foes as some others near the top, but still among the state’s best after owning the south suburbs.
Leading returner Angelina Smith should be one of the top guards in the state.
Best wins: Lincoln-Way West (Twice), Edison Academy (MI), Mother McAuley, Lincoln-Way Central, Homewood-Fossmoor (Twice, lost to them once).
13. Peoria (29-4, 3rd Place in 3A)
Aaliyah Guyton’s the leading returner. Especially excited to see what college she chooses.
Best Wins: Dunlap (Three times), Peoria Notre Dame (twice), Normal, Washington, Marian Catholic, Deerfield.
14. Deerfield (29-7)
Take your pick, Aubrey Galvan and Nikki Kerstein will provide Deerfield one of the best backcourts in the state next year after the Warriors made a historic run to state for their program.
Best Wins: Montini, Homewood-Flossmoor, Hersey, Mother McAuley, Maine South
15. Maine South (26-7)
Huge win streak in the thick of its schedule. Young team that grew immensely. Meegan Fahy, Ava Blagojevich already one of state’s better guard duos and both return.
Best Wins: Glenbrook South (Twice), Libertyville, Barrington, Carmel, Loyola Academy.
16. Libertyville (29-5)
Maybe best player in school history, Emily Fisher, moves on to Maryland.
Kate Rule will be leading returner by Talya Tillman should take a big step up.
Best Wins: Deerfield (by 28), Glenbrook South, Loyola Academy, Lake Zurich, Carmel.
17. Loyola Academy (28-7)
Paige Engels was one of the most enjoyable players I watched this year and some super frosh players will had into sophomore year ready to make a potential state run.
Best wins: Montini (Twice), Kenwood, York.
18. Mater Dei (27-7, 2A state champs)
Pulled out close win after close win in the postseason before thrashing a ver strong Byron team in the finals.
Will have top 10 potential with returning talent for next year, including the star of the 2A state tourney, Alyssa Koerkenmeier.
Best Wins: Paris, Quincy Notre Dame, Byron, Freeburg.
19. Quincy Notre Dame (36-2, 3rd Place in 2A)
Had a 28-game win streak going into the third-place game and their loss to Mater Dei was their lone loss to an Illinois team this year.
Sage Stratton should be top returner.
Best wins: Mater Dei, Okawville, Butler College Prep (Twice), Deer Creek-Mackinaw (by 32).
20. Lyons (28-5)
Ally Cesarini had a great season as Lyons went undefeated in WSC. Nora Ezike (2025) should open the eyes next year of those who don’t know her yet.
Best Wins: Saint Ignatius, York (Twice), Trinity, Mother McAuley.
21. York (25-7)
Mariann Blass one of the best 3 and D players I saw.
Best Wins: Maine South (to end long Hawks win streak), Neuqua Valley.
Stella Kohl should be top returner.
22. Normal (31-4)
Olivia Corson was great, and she’s back for a team that appeared pretty balanced overall.
Best Wins: Washington (Twice), Carmel.
23. Montini (27-7)
Best Wins: Deerfield, Mother McAuley, Trinity (Twice), Lyons, Geneva, Saint Ignatius.
24. Carmel (24-9)
Scored some really nice wins over the best 4A ha to offer. Jordan Wood was one of 3A’s best.
Best Wins: Benet Academy, Hersey, Cardinal Ritter College Prep(MO.)
25. Lake Zurich (25-8)
Was a top 10 team in the state before injuries to Baylie Parks and Avery Cooper. Will return a young team next year that could be just as good.
Best Wins: Barrington, York, Deerfield, Libertyville, Stevenson (Twice)