UPPER DARBY — Alyssa Monaghan knows there is always room for improvement.
The Bonner-Prendergast junior guard is working on becoming an even better player than the one who was named All-Delco and took home Catholic League MVP honors as a sophomore.
As the new season gets under way for most PIAA teams this weekend, Monaghan enters as arguably the top returning player in Delaware County.
Monaghan is focused on fine-tuning her game, remembering the mistakes she made during an otherwise sensational sophomore campaign and avoiding similar pitfalls. Those mishaps, though, were few and far between.
"When I'm driving to the basket, I have to get more in control. That's something I've really been working on,' she said. "I'm definitely working on continuing to get everyone else involved. I'm trying to be more of a leader, too. I'm a junior now, so I know that's going to be important. My teammates and coaches will look to me to be that kind of player.'
Monaghan is going after her next goal, which is leading the Pandas to a Catholic League championship. They came close last winter but couldn't overcome Archbishop Ryan in the quarterfinals of the Catholic League playoffs. The Pandas, though, won 16 games and advanced to the state tournament for the first time. Monaghan led the way with an 18.5 scoring average.
Monaghan recently gave her verbal commitment to Saint Joseph's.
"They've been recruiting me for about a year, I guess, and I knew that they really wanted me,' she said. "I wanted to go somewhere that wanted me. I felt comfortable there and I'm really looking forward to going there.'
A speedy combo guard, Monaghan transferred from Cardinal O'Hara, where she started in mostly every game as a freshman, and became the star player for B-P. Monaghan and her sister, Sarah, who is a senior, helped turn the Pandas back into a viable league title contender.
This year, the Pandas welcomed in a pair of transfers. Sophomore Princess Clemons comes over from Chester, while 6-2 junior Shalina Miller defected from Lansdale Catholic.
"We've looked really good in practice, really strong,' Monaghan said. "We did a lot of running and preseason stuff together. That helped with us getting in shape before tryouts and stuff. It's looking pretty good. We have a couple new players and they're really starting to fit in.'
Sarah Monaghan, who averaged 10 points per game, is a fantastic wing player. Amber Ballinger, a 5-6 junior guard, is the only other returning player on coach Tom Stewart's team. Ballinger was the Pandas' first player off the bench last season.
Two of last season's key contributors, Mollie Reynolds and Rosie O'Halloran, transferred to Haverford.
"The big positive is, we have the reigning MVP of the league. She really makes us go,' said Stewart, a veteran basketball coach of 42 years, including 20 at Bonner-Prendergast. "We have three returning players who saw a lot of time. Two of the starters are going to be newcomers. Sarah Monaghan can play, Amber Ballinger can play. They're smart players. As we get through December ... and when the new kids jell with our kids that were already here, and kind of know where Alyssa is going because you can't keep your eyes off of her ... it's the other kids that really have to get to know her.'
Cardinal O'Hara enjoyed a deep run in the state playoffs after capturing its first Catholic League title since 2008 with a victory over Archbishop Wood.
Even with the loss of several starters, the Lions remain one of the top girls basketball program in Delco.
The departures of three-time All-Delco Shanice Johnson (University of Delaware), Libby Lannon (Ursinus), Mackenzie Rule (Saint Joseph's) and Lisa Mintzer (La Salle) leave a big void. The Lions have plenty of shoes to fill from last season's 26-4 team.
Senior shooting guard Mia Farmer is Lions' go-to player. Farmer, who recently committed to George Washington University, averaged 11.4 points, 4.7 assists, 6.6 rebounds and two steals as a junior.
The Lions have depth at the guard position with Farmer leading the way. Rachel Guy brings versatility. Sam Amicone, Steph Garafolo, Christina Manning and Kim Whelan will have larger, more prominent roles. Kate Feehery, a 6-2 center/forward, gives the Lions some length.
The aforementioned players are all seniors. They all received valuable playing time last winter.
"We're optimistic,' said O'Hara coach Linus McGinty, who is starting his 20th year on the bench at O'Hara. "I think we will surprise some teams.'
Other players to watch are 5-10 junior forwards Kristen Stam and Maeve Heneghan, and freshmen guards Hannah Nihill and Mary Sheehan.
Archbishop Carroll has a balanced lineup highlighted by a talented core of junior guards in Lexi Stover, Julia Gantz, Ann McKnight and Keara McNulty. The Patriots will miss Associated Press All-State Player of the Year and All-Delco forward Sarah Curran (Drexel), as well as high-energy guard Kristie Costantino (Stony Brook), but coach Chuck Creighton expects his team to reload.
Sophomore shooting guard Jess Carney nailed 52 3-pointers a season ago, which was tied for second-most in the county.
Maddie Wallace, a 6-1 senior center, gives the Patriots a solid low-post weapon. Wallace has seen her playing time increase in each of the last three seasons. Senior guard MJ Valeri is a transfer from Upper Merion.