“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” — Michael Jordan.
For two teams in Cherokee County—River Ridge High School 6A Lady Knights Girls’ Basketball team and Cherokee High School 7A Warriors Boys’ Basketball team—this statement holds true as they each take part in the 2023 Georgia High School Association [GHSA] Dr. Ralph Swearngin Basketball State Championships being held March 8 through 11 at the Macon Centreplex in Macon, Georgia.
For the Warriors, the first Cherokee men’s team to make it to the Final Four since 1982, excitement floods the stands as people wait for the next potential win. The Cherokee High School community is already celebrating the team’s accomplishments thus far, considering the more than forty-year period since the team last made it to the finals. Before the 1982 Warriors went up against Campbell in the state championship, the 1962 and 1965 Cherokee High School boys’ teams also made it to the final four playoffs.
“The Warriors will be heading to the state title for only the second time in program history. Despite being overlooked for much of the season they have continued to improve and rise to the occasion each game. They will be facing Wheeler, a giant in basketball, who have beaten the Warriors in all three matchups this year. The Warriors will need to continue doing the little things right and learn from their losses against Wheeler. If Coach Joe Veihman and his squad can bring home the title, the discussion around boys’ basketball in Cherokee County would change drastically,” says Will Cooper, digital media director for WLJA 101.1 FM, the voice of Friday Night Football in Cherokee County on WLJA’s high school football broadcasts.
Perhaps the root of the Warriors’ success is their strength in building relationships among the teammates. The players unanimously agree that their team bonding skills are incredibly unmatched; they compare it to the feeling of hanging out with friends every day. With the help of amazing coaches, the team was always sure to be bound for great achievement. As Cherokee High School Athletic Director Jeremy Adams declares, they are “playing for those that came before them [and] laying the path for those that will come behind.”
A team leads to the win, but only a great coach can direct the way. Joe Veihman, the head coach who joined the team in the 2021-2022 season, helps lead the men to their victory in the 2023 season. Nearly every player expressed adamant gratitude towards him, illustrating how wonderful he is in not only leading the team, but also creating personal connections.
Nate Speaks, a senior center on the team, explains that “Coach Veihman pushed [him] to be better in the hardest aspects of [his] life.” He also says he’s “never trusted a coach more” than he trusts Coach Veihman’s leadership.
Veihman, as well as most of the players, stresses the importance of relationships within the sport. He explains their program is built on four core values: Relationships, Enthusiasm, Authenticity, and Leadership. He states that they “use the acronym ‘REAL’ to define who [they] are, who [they] strive to be, and how [they] want people to perceive [them] in the midst of both victory and defeat.”
These core values are sure to influence the Warriors players far beyond the court and the high-school level as ten current players plan to play basketball at the collegiate level, including senior guard Cameron Pope who has committed to Berry College. Cameron, who’s racked up 1,000 scored points in the last four years, portrays Veihman as an inspiration who has “taught [him] many lessons not only regarding basketball, but about maturing into adulthood.”
By teaching the players to be better people, their team has improved and now they’re poised to experience even more success as they move into the championship game.
River Ridge Lady Knights
Also poised to make school program history are the Lady Knights of River Ridge High School, as they take on Lovejoy on Friday, March 10.
Exhilaration and anticipation: two words that sum up River Ridge as they wait for their girls to be sent to the State Championship. As the school’s first women’s basketball team to reach the state championship, many River Ridge supporters are excited for a potentially history-making win waiting right around the corner.
Will Cooper explains, “Cherokee County has been a hub of girls’ basketball talent for years. River Ridge, the youngest school in the county, has missed out on the success until recently. This will be their first shot at a state title and the Lady Knights will head into the championship game against Lovejoy as underdogs once again. However, they have been for a majority of the season and have proven the pundits wrong time and time again. The key for River Ridge will be making shots, especially behind the arc. While it won’t be an easy win, Coach Jason Taylor knows how to prepare his squad for big games.”
Indeed head coach Jason Taylor, who has coached the Lady Knights team since River Ridge’s inception in 2009, understands the value of hard work and instills that into his team. “There is nothing like the thrill of big win or the agonizing lessons you learn from those hard losses. It’s about being a competitor and working hard to achieve your goals while working together as a team. It’s the lessons you can teach about life through a simple game.”
He also works hard to prepare his team for playing at the collegiate level should they plan to continue their basketball careers beyond high school. He says, “My favorite part [of coaching] is watching our players grow in their skill sets from year to year and grow in their love for the game. Especially for those players that get to make their dreams of playing collegiately a reality, because of all of the hard work they’ve put into it.” Among the current roster, seven players hope to play basketball in college, including senior Ayanna Blanco who has committed to Huntingdon College and senior Mataya Gayle who plans to attend University of Pennsylvania.
Just as the Cherokee team values relationships, so do the players on the River Ridge team. Joy Tchamabe, a sophomore power forward explains her love for the court stems from “the chemistry and love the team has for each other. We are willing to fight for each other on the court which proves our tight-knit bond.”
Sophomore Sophia Pearl, carrying on a family legacy with both parents having played college basketball, shares “everyone has heart for the game which makes it amazing to be surrounded by players who all share a conjoined love for basketball.”
Coach Taylor emphasizes his commitment to the players, stating that “being around them for five months out of the year and growing closer with their families as well is an awesome achievement. One of the greatest experiences so far is being invited to a former player’s wedding.”
Accompanying and caring for both teams is the Northside Hospital Sports Medicine team. Billy Hayes, CEO of Northside Hospital Cherokee, expresses his well wishes for both teams: “Congratulations to Basketball State Championship bound River Ridge Lady Knights and Cherokee High School Warriors! Northside Hospital Cherokee is proud of our student athletes and their hard work.”
Plus, you’re invited to send the Cherokee team off with well wishes as they depart Canton on Saturday, March 11, at 12:30 p.m.
The two teams are sure to leave their mark on history, regardless of the championship outcome. May they both strive for the win!
Catch the Action
FRIDAY – MARCH 10
5:30 pm – 6A Girls (River Ridge vs. Lovejoy)
SATURDAY – MARCH 11
7:30 pm – 7A Boys (Wheeler vs. Cherokee)
Per GHSA’s official website, all championship games will be televised live on the GPB Knowledge Channel and streamed live and on demand at GPB Sports and NFHS Network to any device. Also available on the GPB Sports App, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Let us know!
Are there any public broadcasts of the River Ridge Lady Knights game on Friday? Leave us a note in the comments and we’ll add it to the story.
Cherokee Warriors Roster
00 DASTIN HART PF Senior
01 CAMERON POPE G Senior
02 TAYDEN OWENS PG Senior
03 HAYDEN DARKO PG Sophomore
05 MASON BENNETT SG, PG, SF Senior
10 PEYTON ALLEN SG Sophomore
11 HUDSON MOORE PG, SG Freshman
15 CAYDEN WALSH SF Sophomore
20 HAMPTON COX SG Freshman
22 NATE SPEAKS C, PF Senior
24 LAWRENCE SANFORD SG Sophomore
30 BRAYLIN GIDDENS PG Senior
32 SAMMY ERICSON SG Sophomore
33 BEN WEITZENKORN SF Junior
River Ridge Lady Knights Roster
03 SOPHIA PEARL G Sophomore
05 SIERRA REID G Senior
10 OCTAVIA HALL F Senior
11 MATAYA GAYLE G Senior
14 MAKAYLA ROBERSON G Freshman
15 AVERY GAW G Junior
20 NIARA GAYLE G Sophomore
22 JASMINE LONG F Senior
23 ALLIE SWEET F Junior
24 KAYLA CLEAVELAND G/F Sophomore
25 LILLY KRUTZ F Sophomore
30 AYANNA BLANCO G Senior
32 KYLA CANTEY G Freshman
33 JOY TCHAMABE F Sophomore
44 ALYSSA FARMER F Senior
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