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South Jersey Group 4 Girls Basketball...

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Cherokee is the defending champion and will be difficult to unseat in a tournament with great balance. Expect several lower seeded teams to win games, especially in the first two rounds.

Defending champion: Cherokee beat Toms River North, 37-35 in the final.

Tournament begins: Feb. 27

This season’s first-round matchups: (16) Egg Harbor Township at (1) Cherokee; (9) Washington Township at (8) Lenape; (12) Williamstown at (5) Rancocas Valley; (13) Atlantic Tech at (4) Jackson Memorial); (14) Atlantic City at (3) Toms River North; (11) Clearview at (6) Millville; (10) Southern Regional at (7) Shawnee; (15) Brick Memorial at (2) Kingsway

Favorite: Cherokee

Main contenders: Rancocas Valley, Shawnee, Toms River North, Kingsway

Outlook: Cherokee is coming off Sundays’ 44-33 win over Shawnee in the South Jersey Invitational Basketball Tournament (SJIBT). This event features the top teams in South Jersey. Coach Ron Powell has received plenty of great mileage from the Therien sisters, Ava, who is a junior and freshman forward Alexa.

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Ava Therien leads the Chiefs in scoring, averaging more than 13 points per game. Alexa was named the MVP in the SJIBT after scoring totaling 15 points, seven rebounds and four steals in the championship game.

Cherokee was expected to take a step back from a 27-3 team that won the Group 4 title after the graduation of consensus of South Jersey player of the year, Isabella Therien, the sister of the two previously mentioned players.

Yet the Chiefs went 8-0 in winning the Olympic Conference American Division and began the week with a 20-2 record. The lone losses were 39-32 to Caravel, Delaware and 34-32 to Bishop Eustace.

This isn’t a high scoring Cherokee team, but under Powell, the Chiefs defense is among the best in South Jersey.

Last year’s finalist, Toms River North, should be heard from again. The Mariners began the week 21-3 and one of the losses was to defending South Jersey Group 2 champion Manchester Township and another to Manasquan, which advanced to the Tournament of Champions final last year before losing to Franklin, 50-48.

Shawnee, which has lost twice to Cherokee this season, can’t be overlooked. The Renegades trailed by just seven entering the fourth quarter in the SJIBT to Cherokee. In addition, these two teams opened the season with Cherokee earning a 46-37 triumph over the Renegades.

Junior Sierra Sanson leads the Renegades in scoring with a 13 ppg. average.

Rancocas Valley began the week 14-8, but the Red Devils have played one of the toughest schedules in South Jersey. One of the losses was a 56-48 defeat to Toms River North. One of the wins is over No. 2 seeded Kingsway.

Still, the Red Devils have shown they can be competitive with anybody and it’s possible the Red Devils could meet Cherokee in what would be a highly anticipated semifinal.

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Author: Marc Narducci

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