EVESHAM >> It was mission accomplished for the Cherokee High School girls basketball team after winning its third sectional title in school history here March 9.
“This was the goal since our summer workouts last July,” said Cherokee coach Ron Powell.
“We have been to the sectional final for five straight years. That in itself is an accomplishment, but having lost the last two years we had some unfinished business. I’m very proud of our kids and their commitment to realizing this goal.”
The Chiefs found themselves on the short end of the score in each of the last two sectional finals - 41-30 last year Lenape and 41-34 at Toms River North in 2018.
This year, Cherokee wanted to get out of the South Jersey Group 4 tournament and it had to go up against by an improbable opponent in No. 14 seed Shawnee to do so.
The Renegades earned a trip to the finals after upsetting defending sectional champion and No. 2 seed Lenape, 36-31, on the Indians’ home court two days earlier.
One person who was not surprised by the Renegades’ amazing playoff run was Powell.
“I believed Shawnee would beat Clearview (43-37 in the first round). It didn’t surprise me,” said Powell.
“When they beat Jackson Memorial (53-39 in the quarterfinals), that was a nice win against a Shore Conference opponent who was highly regarded. When they beat Lenape, I knew they were playing better than they had during the course of the regular season.
“Four Olympic Conference American Division teams in the finals of the South Jersey Group 4 tournament is a testament to the coaches and players in our conference. Three of them from the Lenape district. Pretty cool.”
Senior forward Kennedy Wilburn led the way for the Chiefs against Shawnee with 15 points.
Junior center Alexa Therien added 11, while Gia Flamini was Shawnee’s leading scorer with eight points.
Cherokee victory over its sister-school rivals was the third this season for the Chiefs. The others were Jan. 14 at home (45-23) and Feb. 8 on the road (36-27).
“There are always adjustments to be made when you play someone three times,” said Powell. “We had to prepare for them differently because of who (Shawnee)Coach (Chrissy) McGovern was playing in her rotation. We also had Gabby Recinto back from injury. She did not play the last time we saw Shawnee.
Powell also noted the improved play of Shawnee freshman forward Nia Scott as something his team had to be wary of in the sectional final meeting.
“Shawnee is always prepared,” he said. They are scrappy. The improvement of Nia Scott, I believe, was our biggest challenge. She had Alexa (Therien) in foul trouble. Nia is going to be a good one.”
NJSIAA SOUTH GROUP 4 CHAMPIONSHIP
Cherokee 45, Shawnee 34
Shawnee 10 4 12 8 - 34 Cherokee 14 7 14 10 - 45
Megan Heine 6, Erin Florio 3, Gia Flamini 8, Ciana Viccharelli 7, Nia Scott 7, Kaylan Deveney 3. 3-Pointers: Heine 2, Florio, Flamini, Viccharelli, Deveney.
Katie Fricker 6, Christianna McFadden 3, Olivia Kessler 2, Avery Kessler 2, Kennedy Wilburn 15, Gabby Recinto 5, Alexa Therien 11. 3-Pointers: McFadden.
Photos by David Borrelli for The Central Record.