Alexa Therien was open, just beyond the three-point line, when she heard familiar voices from the stands.
“Shoot it,” they said. “Shoot it.”
Her two sisters, Ava and Izzy — teammates on the Loyola Maryland women’s basketball team — were home on winter break, taking in Cherokee’s season-opening game against Sterling.
They were using the short visit to do what sisters do: Support (and needle) their younger sibling.
Alexa Therien — Cherokee’s star junior forward — didn’t shoot it. She passed the ball. Ava and Izzy giggled from the stands, and Alexa flashed them an almost imperceptible eye roll.
It was sisters being sisters.
And it shed a bit of light on the new dynamic of this year’s Cherokee girls’ basketball team.
For the first time in four years, the team features just one Therien sister.
It’s an adjustment for the program as much as for the basketball-crazed Therien family.
For Alexa, it means a different, bigger role on and off the court. But it’s something she’s primed for. She spent all offseason expanding her game. And, early in the season, it’s a role she’s already thriving in.
“It’s a change — but I feel like I can really pick it up and step it up this year — and we have a lot of other girls stepping up right now, too,” said Therien, who is averaging 14.7 points per game for a 4-0 Cherokee team that is once again among the top teams in South Jersey.
Therien describes herself as independent, not afraid to venture out on her own. It’s helped her adjustment to life without her sisters.
And it’s part of the reason she doesn’t see herself joining them at Loyola.
There’s no shortage of big-time programs pursuing the 6-foot-1 Therien. She lists, among her current favorites as Boston College, Drexel and DePaul.
Right now, she’s keeping her options open.
“It’s a lot of phone calls, and it’s a long process. But it’s going to be awesome in the end,” she said. “I’m fortunate to have beautiful schools with awesome coaches and basketball programs [recruiting me], now it’s just a matter of narrowing it down and figuring out where I see myself.
“But just knowing that I’m going to have the opportunity to play basketball at that level. It’s just all worth it in the end.”
The prospect of playing for a big-time college program was particularly motivating to Therien this offseason.
For the first two seasons of her high school career, she was largely a post player. She averaged 10.9 points per game last season as part of a lethal high-low combination with her sister, Ava. But while 6-1 is ideal for a high school post player, Therien projects as more of a stretch four in college.
So she spent this offseason refining her outside game, which meant shooting countless three-pointers and improving on a shot with which she struggled in the past.
Chiefs coach Ron Powell said the work is already paying dividends. Therien has already hit a pair of threes this season, and he’s given her the green light when it comes to shooting from the outside.
“She’s much improved, and I think she’s going to be a player of the year candidate in South Jersey,” Powell said. “She’s been fantastic for us. But she has room to improve, and she knows it. But she’s already made a big step forward this season.”
Therien’s self-motivation is encouraging.
Her first two years at Cherokee, Ava would often be the first to tell Alexa when she needed to pick it up or offer words of encouragement or advice, like reminding her to shoot a three when it’s open.
“Its definitely a little bit lonelier without my sisters at home,” Alexa Therien said. “They’re like my best friends, so not having them around, especially not being able to play a pickup game in the drive way, or 1 vs. 1 is so different.”
But, she added, she’s grateful for her current group of teammates.
Therien and senior forward Kennedy Wilburn are role models on a young but seriously talented team.
Cherokee fell, in somewhat heartbreaking fashion, in each of the last two South Jersey Group 4 finals. But, even with just one Therien still in uniform, the Chiefs like their chances of avenging that loss.