O'Hara and Prendergast are different teams than the ones that met at Temple University's Liacouras Center last March. Prendergast, loaded with seniors last season, was still considered an underdog. O'Hara was a talented, but young team.
This season, Prendergast isn't as tall or as experienced. Since league MVP Jamie Battinieri, guard Michelle Halligan and center Heather Jones graduated last spring, the Pandas are struggling to find new combinations.
"We're looking for our own identity," Prendergast coach Tom Stewart said. "Last year, I'd just give Jamie the ball. We practiced a lot over the holidays, so I hope that helps against O'Hara."
The Pandas know how daunting tonight's game may be against the nationally ranked Lions. With five senior starters - four of whom have received athletic scholarships from major college programs - and a deep bench, O'Hara is considered a favorite for the league title this season.
The Lions finished third in their division at the competitive Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona from Dec. 20 to 22, and won the Diamond State tournament by defeating nationally recognized Our Lady of Lourdes (N.Y.) over the Christmas holidays.
"I think playing the best teams in the country has really helped us," Griesser said. "This is one of the best preseasons [to Catholic League play] O'Hara has had."
A contest against an experienced team such as O'Hara will be a challenge, Stewart said.
"Maybe it's the kind of game we have to play," he said. "The adrenaline will be pumping. There will be so many people in our small gym. A team will know if you're scared. Our kids have to go out there and play."
Prendergast's defense, which shifts from man-to-man to zone, most likely will be the key. O'Hara has a quick and explosive offense, with players who communicate well. The Lions have outscored opponents, 476-336, in their wins, despite the stiff competition. Their lone loss came against national powerhouse Lynwood (Calif.) in the Nike tournament, 65-54.
Erin Healy, a 5-8 senior guard, keys the Prendergast defense. In last season's title game, she scored 17 points and tossed in two crucial free throws, despite playing with a hip pointer.
She again may face 6-foot Lions' forward Kate Dessart Mager, who was named most valuable player of the Diamond State tournament. Dessart Mager has committed to Villanova.
"Erin is a great defender, but she can't cover four people," Stewart said. "And Dessart Mager can jump out of the building."
Healy, a senior who averages nine points per game, second on the team, said she is looking forward to the competition. Six-foot Carlene Hightower leads Prendergast in scoring with a 12-point scoring average.
"I've played with them for a long time, and I always know it's going to be hard," she said of guarding Griesser and Dessart Mager. "We need to be patient with our offense."
Prendergast's Christen Scanlon, who may have to match up against her twin, O'Hara's Catherine Scanlon, averages about 10 rebounds per game.
Stewart also is looking for big games from 5-5 senior point guard Shannon DiCave, 5-10 junior forward Michelle Hartnett and guard Michelle Griendling.
"They have to find a way to help us win," he said.
Shannon Ryan's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.