Cherokee High School’s girls basketball team is playing about as well as anyone in the state out of the gate.
How well have the Chiefs been playing? Through their first seven games, they weren’t only unbeaten but had won those games by an average of 30 points, and those contests have included matchups with Bella Runyan’s Moorestown Friends team and Oregon-bound Kylee Watson’s Mainland team.
The Chiefs hosted Washington Township Jan. 3 in a battle of early-season unbeatens and cruised to a 24-point win. Junior Alexa Therien, one night removed from a 103-degree fever, led the dominating Cherokee effort with 21 points, 10 rebounds, five steals and three assists.
“She’s a warrior; she fought through it,” Cherokee coach Ron Powell said.
The daughter of former Flyer Chris Therien and the youngest of three Therien girls to star at Cherokee, Alexa is focused on accomplishing something Ava (currently a freshman at Loyola University) and Isabella Therien (a junior at Loyola) took care of three years ago: leading the Chiefs to a South Jersey Group 4 championship. The way Therien’s game has developed in her first three high school seasons, it’d be foolish to bet against Cherokee.
“Her perimeter game is better; she shoots it better,” Powell said. “She’s developed some other post moves, some jump hooks and up-and-unders that she didn’t have when she was a freshman. I really think the sky is the limit for the kid. She’s a hard worker and she’s hungry. She’s going to get better.”
Therien recently took some time for the South Jersey Sports Weekly One on One.
SJSW: What’s been the key to Cherokee’s dominating start to the season?
Therien: Honestly it’s just the team work; we’re all playing really well together. The chemistry is great this early this season and it’s working out well.
SJSW: Cherokee has played in four straight sectional championship games but hasn’t won one since 2017. Why is this the year?
Therien: I really thought we had it in the last two years, but we just came up short; we didn’t show up. That happens sometimes. But third time is a charm, so we’ll see this time.
SJSW: In what area of your game have you grown the most since freshman year?
Therien: I think my (overall) game has gotten stronger, my shooting game has gotten a lot better. I still have to work on ball handling, especially if I want to play at the college level. You have to be able to do everything. But I definitely have worked hard to get to where I am. Nothing just comes overnight. You really have to put in the work to get to where you want to be.
SJSW: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from Ava?
Therien: She motivated me, pushed me through. When I’m having a bad game, she’d lift me up. I really miss playing with her.
SJSW: How about from Isabella?
Therien: She’s a beast. She’s taught me so much, the one-v-ones in the driveway. She’s never, ever gone soft on me and that’s really helped me. Both of them have had big impacts on my basketball career.
SJSW: If we had a 1-on-1 tournament at your driveway this weekend, and everybody in your family is in, who is in the finals?
Therien: Me and Isabella. Ava is an awesome player but she’s smaller; she’s 5-10, 5-11 and Isabella and I are 6-1 and we’re bigger bone wise, so definitely me and Isabella.
SJSW: How about a game of HORSE?
Therien: Isabella. She’s the best shooter out of all of us.
SJSW: Do you know where you’re headed for college yet?
Therien: I have my top three — DePaul, Drexel and Boston University.
SJSW: Who is your favorite team to play in South Jersey?
Therien: I love playing Lenape. They are our big rival. And I really enjoy playing Moorestown Friends because they have Bella Runyan and she’s a really good matchup for me and the team.
SJSW: If you could add anyone playing from South Jersey to Cherokee’s roster this year, who would you pick?
Therien: Hmm. Hmmm. That’s a good question.
SJSW: Right, it could be who fits the best, who you think is the best — there is more than one way to answer that question.
Therien: I would say Bella (Runyan). She’d be perfect for our team.
SJSW: She plays a little like Ava, right?
Therien: Yeah, she’s a little bit smaller and lankier but yeah, she reminds me of my sister a lot.
SJSW: Is there any high school player you’d pay to watch?
Therien: Yes. There’s a girl on Neumann Goretti (Diamond Johnson). We played her last year and she is amazing. I love watching her. My AAU coach’s team played her and she dropped 56 points or something. She’s just a great player.
SJSW: Who is the best shooter on Cherokee’s team?
Therien: Katie Fricker and Olivia Kessler I’d have to say.
SJSW: Best defender?
Therien: Gabby Recinto or Katie Fricker.
Therien: Me. By far.
Therien: That would be Katie McKeffrey and Olivia Kessler.
SJSW: TV show you’re currently bingeing on?
Therien: “The Vampire Diaries.”
SJSW: Favorite movie you’ve seen recently?
Therien: “Endless Love.” The newer version.
SJSW: Last one — you’re at the state championship game and everyone gets to enter to their own music. What’s your entrance song?
Therien: “Highway to Hell.”