Mabrey vs. Mabrey when Irish women meet Virginia Tech

Anthony Anderson | Tribune Correspondent
ND Insider

Ordinarily, not much can dim Marina Mabrey’s competitive fire. Least of all, anybody wearing an opponent’s uniform.

Yet, Mabrey, regarded as one of the most ferocious players in all of women’s college basketball, will have that ferocity tested Wednesday night when she lines up opposite kid sister Dara Mabrey.

Marina’s a senior and a reigning All-Atlantic Coast Conference guard for No. 1-ranked Notre Dame (16-1, 4-0) as the Irish get set to visit Virginia Tech (13-3, 0-3).

Dara’s a freshman starting guard off to a dazzling beginning to her own collegiate career with the Hokies.

Chances are, the tight-knit sisters will be guarding each other at least some, with the 5-foot-7 Dara giving away four inches.

Typically all business, Marina admits she’s been distracted this week by the matchup.

Dara has light-heartedly added to the distraction through text messages.

“She’s like, ‘Hey, I’m coming to the hotel tonight. Should I bring cards and cookies?’” Marina said Tuesday afternoon with a smile of her sister, who was indeed planning to stop by where the Irish were scheduled to be staying upon their arrival in Blacksburg.

“She’s just excited to see me,” Marina said. “We’re both excited to see each other.”

Dara, though, wasn’t confining her texts to just hotel plans.

“She’s like, ‘What happens if you push me and they give you a tech or something?’” Marina shared of another message from Dara. “I’m like, ‘God, that’s wonderful.’”

The sisters won a New Jersey state championship together as well as a Tournament of Champions crown for Manasquan High, near their Belmar home, when Marina was a senior and Dara a freshman in 2015.

They’ve never been on opposing sides in organized team ball, though.

“I definitely think it’s weird,” Dara said Tuesday by phone, “because when I look at any other player, all I see is my opponent, but when I look at her tomorrow, she’ll still be my sister. I’m not sure I’ll be able to fully process it.”

“I’m just excited that our family gets to experience something like this,” Marina said. “A lot of people don’t get to see siblings play against each other at such a high level.”

Because Notre Dame is over 700 miles from Belmar, Marina’s parents, Roy and Patti, haven’t been able to regularly watch her play in person.

Wednesday will also mark the first time they’ll be attending one of Dara’s games for Virginia Tech, nearly 500 miles from home.

“Oh yeah,” Dara said of whether the game will be sweet and tough all at once for her parents. “I think my dad said in another interview, ‘I just want to see my daughters do well, and I don’t care who wins.’”

Patti, according to the sisters, is planning to wear a special jersey, with Dara’s Virginia Tech No. 4 on the front and Marina’s Notre Dame No. 3 on the back.

Roy and Patti didn’t experience much formal basketball of their own growing up, yet all five of their children have excelled in the sport, making the family basketball savants in their home state.

All three daughters scored over 2,000 career points, won multiple state and Tournament of Champion titles and captured state player of the year honors.

Oldest sibling Roy Jr., 27, figuratively and literally got the ball rolling. Then came Michaela, who preceded Marina as a standout at Notre Dame, followed by Dara. Youngest sibling, Ryan, is a promising high school freshman.

“It started with my older brother,” Marina said of Roy, who now teaches and coaches at Red Bank Catholic High in New Jersey. “He started working really hard and ended up going to a Division II school (Saint Anselm in New Hampshire), but I know he had DI offers, and then just seeing how hard he had to work just to be an All-American, even in Division II.

“We started to realize how hard it really is to do this,” Marina continued. “Obviously, the women’s game is a lot easier to go DI than the men’s, but still, working really hard every day, and learning from what he did well and what mistakes he made.”

Dara says all the Mabrey kids have honed hearty helpings of their skills and their competitiveness from playing one-on-one in a small driveway at the family’s home.

“Basically, that driveway forced you to beat your opponent in the simplest way possible,” Dara said. “There’s no room to do anything else.”

There’s no room for mercy, either.

“All of them, they would do anything to beat a younger sibling,” Dara said of her older siblings, “and I would do anything to beat Ryan.”

She admits, much to her chagrin, that Ryan is beating her now.

The last time Dara and Marina went one-on-one, it wasn’t in the driveway, but when Marina was visiting her little sister in October at Virginia Tech.

“I did,” Marina said of who won, “(but) she’s always close. She’s always real close.”

The sisters at one time appeared close to being reunited at Notre Dame.

“It was kind of confusing,” Dara said of her recruitment by the Irish. “I had an offer at one point, then I didn’t.”

Dara says she doesn’t want to speculate on where she would’ve wound up if the ND offer had stood, emphasizing that “I’m very glad I chose Virginia Tech.”

“Yeah, I would’ve liked to have played with her,” Marina said of Dara, “but at the end of the day, it’s her decision. I know she’s happy there, so I’m happy when she’s happy.”

Dara says she knows a Marina that few others know.

“She’s the person I go to for everything, whether it’s basketball or not,” Dara said. “Whether she’s mad at me or not, she treats me like a little sister and understands everything. People don’t know how goofy and really fun she is. All people see is the competitor.”

When Marina was a freshman at Notre Dame, Michaela, who is now director of recruiting at LSU, was a senior with the Irish.

“I do try to remember that I had my older sister here,” Marina said, “so if I ever needed to talk to somebody, I could just go hang out with my older sister. It’s not the same (for Dara). … So, I’m just trying to be someone she can vent to, say whatever she’s feeling. I’m just trying to help her through freshman year, because I know it’s a roller coaster for everyone.”

Wednesday’s game will be the first sister-vs.-sister matchup that ND’s Muffet McGraw can recall being a part of during her 37-year collegiate coaching career.

She wonders about Marina being able to compete effectively, something she doesn’t normally wonder about at all.

“I think it’s going to be difficult,” McGraw said. “I really do. They have such a close relationship, and I think Dara is out to prove a point with both Michaela and Marina playing here. I think she wants to show them how good she is, and she’s having a great start to her freshman year. Marina being the senior and older, I’m hoping her poise and ability to separate (things) will help us.”

McGraw said she was still undecided Tuesday afternoon on whether to have Marina guard Dara much. Notre Dame has been playing both zone and man this season, while Tech has gone primarily man.

“Family comes first,” Marina said of how she’d like to see the game transpire. “I never want her to fail. I want her to play well, but at the end of the day, I obviously want to win.”

Dara does, too. She admits she’ll probably be reminding Marina of the outcome forever if the Hokies find a way to pull off the stunner over the top-ranked Irish.

“But she’s the same way,” Dara said of Marina. “If they win, I’m not going to hear the end of it.”

Notre Dame's Marina Mabrey, left, will be facing younger sister Dara when the Irish take on Virginia Tech on Wednesday night.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

WHO: No. 1 Notre Dame (15-1, 4-0 ACC) vs. Virginia Tech (13-3, 0-3).

WHERE: Cassell Coliseum (9,275), Blacksburg, Va.

WHEN: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

RADIO: Pulse (103.1 / 96.9 / 92.1 FM).

TV/WEB: ACC Network Extra.

WOMEN’S BASKETBALL

NOTING: Wednesday’s game will be Notre Dame’s 100th in Atlantic Coast Conference play. The Irish are 95-4 in such matchups during their five-plus seasons in the league, including 81-3 in the regular season and 14-1 in the ACC Tourney. … Virginia Tech leads the nation in free throw percentage at 81.0, and individually, the Hokies sport the nation’s No. 3 rebounder in 6-3 senior Regan Magarity (13.2 per game) and the No. 6 3-point shooter in freshman Dara Mabrey (48.1 percent on 37-of-77). … Tech’s top scorer is senior guard Taylor Emery (18.9 points per game), followed by Magarity (13.8 ppg, 1.8 blocks), Mabrey (12.0 ppg, 2.8 assists) and sophomore forward Trinity Baptiste (10.4 ppg, 7.4 rebounds)… The Hokies have dropped all three of their ACC games after opening 13-0, but that includes a 75-73 OT loss to No. 12 Syracuse and a pair of road losses by a combined 11 points. … Irish leaders include Arike Ogunbowale (21.5 ppg, 4.2 apg, 1.6 spg), Jessica Shepard (14.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg), Jackie Young (14.5 ppg, 4.7 apg), Marina Mabrey (14.1 ppg, 4.3 apg, 27-of-64 on 3s for 42.2 percent) and Brianna Turner (13.2 pg, 7.8 rpg, 2.1 bpg). … Notre Dame is second in the nation in field goal percentage (51.8), second in made free throws (290), third in scoring (88.6), fourth in free throw attempts (396), fifth in scoring margin (25.2) and sixth in assists (19.9). … The Irish are 10-1 all-time against Tech, including an 89-59 win last season. ND has taken six straight meetings since a 53-50 road loss in February 2003.

QUOTING: “They’re dying to get ranked. (In their minds), this is the game that will get them ranked. It’s a Super Bowl for them, and we’ve got to be ready to take everybody’s best shot.” — Muffet McGraw, Notre Dame coach, on Virginia Tech