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Girls basketball: Cherokee uses experience to down Lenape in Olympic American showdown

MEDFORD - Ron Powell knew he had another talented team on his hands this season.

The Cherokee High School girls basketball coach also knew it would be the first time the Lady Chiefs would have to operate without a Therien sister in the lineup in nearly a decade.

Fortunately for Powell, the Lady Chiefs returned four starters, three of which were starters on the 2020 team that finished with a 30-1 record, that are determined to earn another shot at a state championship.

So far this year’s team hasn’t missed a beat.

Cherokee held off district rival Lenape, 38-34, in an Olympic Conference American Division showdown on Thursday night. The Lady Chiefs improved their record to 6-2 and have now won five out of their last six games.

“We have four returning starters,” Powell said. “We don’t have Alexa Therien. She’s busy at Loyola getting double-doubles right now. (She’s been named) the Patriot League Rookie of the Week three times in a row. This group of kids, they’ve been there before. We’re counting on their experience. These are all learning experiences for everybody, but these kids need to know that we were a heck of a team when we had Lex (and) can still be a heck of a team with the group that we have now.”

Junior Delaney Jackson poured in a season-high 11 points. The Loyola lacrosse commit is a returning starter that had only amassed double figures twice in her career prior to Thursday.

“I knew today that I needed to come out strong,” Jackson said. “I definitely have been a little passive. I’ve learned so much from all the past players. I like that (the coaches) put a lot of pressure on me to take a bigger role because I want them to expect more from me.”

Jackson’s fearlessness and pace attacking the rim helped Cherokee establish an edge early on. Seven of her team-high 11 points came in the first half and helped alleviate the absence of Gabby Recinto on the court. Recinto picked up two early fouls and was unable to provide her services on the interior for the entire duration of the opening half.

“I was really glad that Delaney attacked the basket in the first half,” Powell said. “We ran some sets for her and she took advantage of that. So far this season we’ve been doing it with Gabby Recinto and Katie Fricker. We told C.J. (Apistar), we told Delaney, we told Bri (Wegner), that we need balance. More importantly, all these kids are making their free throws. Foul shooting was critical in the fourth quarter.”

Recinto overcame the challenging start and contributed seven points in the win. Katie Fricker scored seven of her nine points in the second half as Cherokee withstood a late fourth-quarter push by the Indians to etch out the narrow victory.

“We count on Gabby for a lot,” Powell said. “She did pick up two quick fouls and we had to take her out. She’s a good defender, she can score the basketball, she drives the ball to the basket. She’s obviously having a good start to our season. It was tough to play that first quarter with her sitting on the bench, but it gives Olivia Selverian, a freshman, some minutes. She’s gonna be a good player.”

As for Jackson, her expertise on the lacrosse field is quickly translating to the hardwood. The motions and objectives are analogous and the correspondence between the two is helping her improve by the minute.

“Lacrosse and basketball are so similar,” Jackson said. “That’s why I love both of them. Offensively, it’s like the same motions. Defensively, you have to be in help, you have to slide to the ball, so it’s so similar.”

Jackson, along with her teammates, also brings great character to the program. Those appreciated, yet sometimes overlooked, values make Powell’s job a lot easier.

“She’s an awesome kid,” Powell said. “All these kids — they’re all gems. They really are. I think as coaches we all want that.”

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