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Powell, facing new challenge, back on Cherokee bench

Ron Powell said it was the most prepared he's ever been for a season. He accepted the job coaching the Cherokee girls' basketball team in June. He's been gearing up since.

Ron Powell at practice.
Ron Powell at practice.Read more(Tom Gralish/Staff Photographer)

Ron Powell said it was the most prepared he's ever been for a season.

He accepted the job coaching the Cherokee girls' basketball team in June. He's been gearing up since.

But coaching, it turns out, is hard to simulate.

"I remember I went home after the first week of practice and I said to my wife, 'I'm exhausted - I'm not used to this anymore,' " Powell said with a laugh.

Leading a high school basketball team is taxing, he said. It's a grind.

"But it's rewarding," Powell concluded. "And you realize that there's really nothing like teaching these kids. I like seeing the kids when they learn something. I like seeing that moment when it clicks in and they get it."

The mind-set landed Powell at the helm of a basketball team after a six-year hiatus. Powell was a decorated boys' coach for 27 years, winning state titles with Rancocas Valley in 1996 and 1998 and with Cherokee in his final year in 2010.

The time off was certainly a bit more relaxing. But coaches of Powell's ilk never really lose that desire.

The Cherokee girls' position opened when coach Shannon Bretz took an administrative position with Cherokee and stepped down. So Powell decided to jump in.

"It's weird, but coaching is just something that's in you," he said. "I'm going to do it as long as I'm having fun. I'm not going to put a time table on it. It's just a good fit."

Of course his decision to come back was made easier knowing the players he'd inherit.

The Chiefs return a team with as much promise as any in South Jersey. Six seniors are back - plus a stud junior forward in Isabella Therien - from a team that finished 22-5 and advanced to the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals.

Powell never coached a girls' team before this season. But he was familiar with some of his new players. He's a physical education and health teacher at Cherokee. He also trained some of the seniors in clinics when they were in middle school and with their AAU teams.

He also watched a few of the Chiefs' games last season, including their three losses to rival Lenape. And that's when he really learned what the team was about.

"Those games were wars," Powell said. "They were the most physical girls' basketball games I'd ever seen."

Each of the games, including a postseason loss, was an emotionally charged battle of familiar, evenly matched opponents in front of a packed house.

This season is about overcoming those moments.

"We've been looking forward to this season since we came to Cherokee, really," senior point guard Shaye McGoey said. "Coach Powell is knowledgeable and passionate about the game. And right now, we're all on the same page."

Added Therien: "Those types of games bring out the true character in each and every player. Last year we had some ups and downs, but we're coming in here ready for a fight every game."

Powell said he's implementing a system not unlike the one he previously ran with his boys' teams, a style predicated on tough man-to-man defense.

It's a learning process right now. The players are wrapping their minds around new plays and new techniques. There could be some bumps early on, Powell conceded, especially through a tough first five games.

But when it clicks, Powell thinks the outcome could be the season these players have been waiting for.

"They seem to be a hungry group. They come out ready to play, which is what I like to see," Powell said. "I've thoroughly enjoyed myself so far. And right now, we're excited to get started."