Cherokee girls are Inquirer's Team of the Year in South Jersey

Cherokee players celebrate with their SJIBT Championship trophy after beating Gloucester Catholic.

At the beginning of this season, the Cherokee girls' basketball team was an afterthought in the broader South Jersey picture.

Everyone knew about Isabella Therien - the Chiefs returning star player, and, in fact the only returning varsity player on the team.

The rest of the Chiefs, for those outside the program, were question marks.

Three championships later, and the Chiefs - this year's Inquirer Team of the Year in South Jersey girls' basketball - provided several resounding answers to those questions.

Cherokee finished 27-3, including titles in the Olympic Conference American Division, South Jersey Invitational Basketball Tournament, and the South Jersey Group 4 tournament.

As for Therien, she wasn't just the best player on her team, she turned in one of the best single seasons in South Jersey girls' basketball history. She was heroic in nearly every big game the team played, including generating 28 points and nine rebounds in her team's upset of Gloucester Catholic in the championship game of the SJIBT. She scored the game-winner at the buzzer - two of her 16 points - in Cherokee's win over Toms River North in the South Jersey Group 4 championship.

After every big win, Chiefs coach Ron Powell, would be the first to point out that Therien was "the best player in South Jersey." But he would always build on the comment:

"What's most impressive," he said, "is how she's brought along the rest of the team with her."

A host of young players emerged to play big roles in big moments for Cherokee.

Stars were born in players like freshman guard Kennedy Wilburn and sophomore forward Ava Therien, Isabella's sister.

It all equalled a memorable, and unlikely ride for Cherokee, the best team in South Jersey this season.

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