It's not hard for Friends' Central point guard Monaye Merritt to recall the emptiness she felt after her team's league championship loss to Shipley last season. She is reminded of it every day.

"Every time I go in my home gymnasium, there isn't a championship on our banner," Merritt said. "So that's motivation in itself for this season. Every time I look at it, I know that I've been there, but the championship still isn't there. So my job isn't done as a player, and my whole team feels the same way."

The 2008-09 Friends' Central team finished the regular season a perfect 24-0, including a win over nemesis Shipley, and it did it with just one senior on the roster.

Even though that team exceeded most of the expectations surrounding it, the Phoenix (26-2) were anything but content at the end of the season. To say the least, that feeling is carrying over into the new season.

"After we beat Shipley in the regular season last year, we kind of became overconfident, and we were fairly sure that we were going to be able pull through again," Merritt said. "But from the beginning of the game, things just didn't go as planned, and we were never fully able to recover from the opening.

"So what we did last season was nice, and it's a good thing. But it wasn't worth anything because we didn't win the championship."

Friends' Central coach Phillip Annas looks at his team - a veteran squad with five seniors and a wealth of experience in big situations - and expects a different ending this season.

"Part of getting to the championship last year was gaining the experience of playing Shipley in a situation like that," Annas said. "And our kids have come back this year. Now they've been there and done that, and I expect us to be much more poised and ready for a championship run this year."

Merritt, a junior, will serve as a captain along with 6-foot-3 senior center Talia East, and senior guard Emily Brodsky on a team that Annas insists will not be about individual performances. One of the biggest lessons Annas said his team learned last season is that taking that final step toward a league championship will take the effort of every person on the team.

"I'm expecting another successful season," he said. "And that's not to say that the league isn't strong. Shipley is going to have a great team. New Church is going to have a good team this year, and there are several teams who are going to have good squads. But I think our team is ready for this season."

Merritt certainly thinks so. But just like that banner in her home gym keeps reminding her, she knows she can't take anything for granted.

"It's going to take a lot of determination and hard work, and that's not just during the game. That's the preparation before the game," she said. "Because the will to win is meaningless without the will to prepare."