VOORHEES-- Cherokee went through some growing pains at the start of the regular season, but the Chiefs still expected to be in the South Jersey Invitational Basketball Tournament final.
The Chiefs, who have been playing terrific basketball of late, defeated Bishop Eustace 46-33 to win their third straight SJIBT championship on Sunday.
“I expected that it would be like this because I expected us to be good enough to be here for the third time in a row,” Cherokee head coach Ron Powell said.
“We knew we had a pretty strong nucleus coming back, but we’re starting two freshman guards and there’s been some growing pains there. But they’re better for it.”
Ava and Alexa Therien once again shined for the Chiefs in the victory, with Ava winning the SJIBT Most Valuable Player award for her 17-point performance in the final.
However, Sunday’s performance was more of a flexing of depth than a dominant performance by the Therien sisters and forward Kennedy Wilburn.
Olivia Kessler, who was named to the All-SJIBT tournament team alongside the Therien sisters, played crucial minutes at guard, while Alexis Armstrong came off the bench to provide a scoring boost.
“Olivia played well for us,” Powell said. “She’s been playing well, especially recently. Alexis Armstrong came in and hit a three and some free throws and played some pretty good defense. We need some help. It’s not just the Therien-Kennedy Wilburn show. We need some balance.”
“The (bench players) did awesome today,” Ava Therien said. “They do the little things, diving on the ground for the ball, making clutch jump shots, like Alexis Armstrong did, they’re great parts of our team. Without them, we wouldn’t be the team that we are.”
Kessler and Armstrong also added to a strong defensive performance by the Chiefs, as they limited Eustace’s chances from the three-point line.
The focus on shutting down the Crusaders’ outside strength helped the Chiefs hold their opponent to 10 first-half points.
“I’m so proud of us,” Ava Therien said. “We’ve worked so hard to get here and our defense is just going to keep getting better. We’re starting to talk more than we were at the beginning of the season. We’re just going to keep working every game to get better.”
After accomplishing their first goal on Sunday, the Chiefs have a share of the Olympic Conference American Division in their sights with a win over Shawnee on Tuesday.
After that, the Chiefs will embark on the South Jersey Group 4 tournament, where they are the No. 2 seed.
“We’re just going to take it game by game and focus on each team and work as hard as we can and see how it takes us,” Ava Therien said. “Hopefully we get to where we want to be or farther.”