The transition from being the little sister on the team to the big sister, at least outwardly, hasn't fazed Ava Therien.

But when asked, she smiled.

"It can be frustrating," said Therien, star of the Cherokee girls' basketball team, "but I just keep reminding myself that I was that younger player once, too, and that it's actually kind of cool to see Alexa [her freshman sister] get better every day."

Over the last five years there has seemingly been an assembly line of Therien sisters — daughters of former Flyers defenseman Chris Therien — imposing their will on South Jersey basketball.

Each year, each sister — each two grades apart — takes a decided step forward toward stardom.

Last year, senior Izzy Therien was the girls' player of the year in South Jersey and led the Chiefs to the sectional Group 4 championship.

Ava was just a sophomore, one of the team's top contributors but sponging experience and lessons and looking markedly improved by season's end.

Now she's Cherokee's leading scorer as a junior, averaging 14 points per game (19 over her last five). The Chiefs are, by most estimations, the top team in South Jersey. They are poised to make a run at a second straight South Jersey Invitational Basketball tournament title on Sunday when they play Shawnee  at Eastern at  4:30 p.m. And they are locked in as the No. 1 playoff seed in South Jersey Group 4.

Cherokee’s Isabella Therien (left) and sister Ava celebrate after a victory last season.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Cherokee’s Isabella Therien (left) and sister Ava celebrate after a victory last season.

And as Ava is the team's newfound leader, she's also a role model — just as Izzy was for her — for Alexa, who is averaging 8.4 points in her freshman season.

The tradition, it appears, marches on. Both sisters are only getting better.

"The best thing about Ava this season," said Cherokee coach Ron Powell, "is that I have her again next year. She's just been fantastic for us."

When asked about her family's love for basketball, Ava Therien had to think for a moment and furrowed her brow.

"I know there are times when our family isn't talking about basketball, but sometimes it doesn't seem that way," Therien said with a smile. "It doesn't even matter what season it is — hockey, soccer — our conversations are always about basketball.

"Sometimes it's like: 'Can we please talk about something else for a change?' "

Really, it's just another reflection of the passion for the game and the fire that each sister has,  those common threads that run through the Therien family.

"My dad always tells us just to go out there and play hard and to play like it's your last game that you're ever going to play. Just leave everything out there," Ava Therien said. "When you stop doing that and stop giving everything you have, that's when you can lose a game."

Losing games has not been a regular occurrence in Therien's three years with Cherokee. She's lost just eight regular-season games.

One of those rare losses was a 34-32 upset at the hands of a talented Bishop Eustace team on Feb. 2.

But, like Izzy before her, Therien helped the team bounce right back.

"I wouldn't say we needed to lose, but I think losing can start something in you," Therien said. "You can come to the next game and prove that you can learn from it and learn what you did wrong, figure out how to fix it."

The Chiefs rattled off four straight wins since that loss and are now set for Sunday's tournament  championship game.

It's something to which Therien is looking forward. The rest of South Jersey might not realize it yet, but the Therien train is marching on, and Ava can't wait to showcase it this weekend.

"This tournament means a lot to us," Therien said. "Since Isabella graduated a lot of teams in South Jersey were saying that we weren't going to be that good this year.

"But I knew we could come together as a team. We want to show the rest of the teams in South Jersey what kind of team we are."