At a Bonner-Prendergast practice, you'll be hard-pressed to find a moment when Alyssa Monaghan doesn't have a basketball in her hands.

The senior guard has one sitting on her hip while coach Tom Stewart discusses a drill. She rocks a ball back and forth, alternating hands, under the basket.

A St. Joseph's recruit who averaged almost 17 points last season, Monaghan quickly lets a shot fly, demonstrating her speedy release as she races around the perimeter to make two jumpers in a row.

During the last two seasons, it was the presence of a basketball in the hands of the sharpshooting guard that helped spark a resurgence at Bonner-Prendie.

The Pandas have been on the cusp for the last two seasons in the Catholic League. A basket away from a big victory. One fourth-quarter breakdown from second place.

But now it is Monaghan's final year, and she would like that to change.

"Whether or not it's a Catholic League title, you want to go out with something," Monaghan said. "That's our goal, to make it to the championship."

"I think we have a really good chance," she added. "This will be our best year, I think."

With Monaghan, 6-foot-2 La Salle recruit Shalina Miller, and guard Amber Ballinger returning for the Pandas, Bonner-Prendie is poised for success, although an anterior cruciate ligament tear suffered by the versatile Princess Clemons is a blow to the squad.

"It's so fun to play with Alyssa. She gets you riled up, but she is so calm, cool, and collected," Miller said. "I love playing with Alyssa."

When Monaghan and her older sister Sarah transferred from Cardinal O'Hara for Alyssa's sophomore year, the Pandas had won only five games the season before. With the help of the Monaghans, the squad quickly rose to prominence in the league and reached the quarterfinals of the Catholic League playoffs and the PIAA Class AAA state tournament.

The Pandas took more steps forward last season, finishing third in the league after some really close regular-season finishes against Neumann-Goretti, Archbishop Wood, and O'Hara. Prendie lost those three matchups by a combined 11 points.

Those league games were "frustrating," Monaghan said, adding it is tougher to recall the contests because she knows her team was "right there."

And then, after dropping a close game in the PCL semifinals, for the second straight season the Pandas were ousted from the state tournament by Bethlehem Catholic in the first round.

"Last year, I don't think we really realized it," Monaghan said. "I don't think that we realized we were one of the better teams. . . . I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing."

A recent practice hit the hour-and-a-half mark. After running half-court offensive sets, it was time to stretch things out and use the full, revamped Bonner gymnasium.

On three straight possessions, Monaghan took the ball and flew down the court to score. First, she went down the right side and made a layup. Then she did a jump stop and drilled the shot. Lastly, she made a lefthanded layup.

An assistant coach stopped the defense for some instruction.

"Slow her down a little bit," was the advice given, accompanied by a tutorial on how.

Not "stop her" or "force her to pass."

As opposing teams already know, when Monaghan has the ball in her hands, slowing her is often the best you can hope for.