BLACKSBURG — It remains to be seen whether No. 1 Notre Dame’s visit to Cassell Coliseum on Wednesday will become a memorable part of Virginia Tech women’s basketball history.
But it will certainly be a memorable night for the Mabrey family.
Freshman point guard Dara Mabrey will be starting for the Hokies, while her older sister Marina will be starting at point guard for the reigning NCAA champion Fighting Irish.
“I’m excited to just see her in general. Obviously we’re excited to play against each other,” Dara said this week.
“I’m sure when the moment comes it will be a little uncomfortable, like when they’re on the free-throw line and me and her are both point guards [so] we’ll be standing at halfcourt together. That probably will be a little uncomfortable because it’s just weird, it’s a lot different.”
Marina, a senior, said each is the other’s biggest fan.
“I know she admires me a lot,” Marina said in a phone interview. “I try to be a good example for her.”
Marina is looking forward to sharing a “cool first-time experience” Wednesday.
The two have never before squared off against each other.
Well, not in a real game.
“I’ve never been on the opposite team,” Dara said. “We were always just either playing against each other to get better at home, or we were on the same team in high school.
“At home, in the driveway and in the gym, I would always want to play against her because it was going to make me better.”
To commemorate Wednesday’s game, Marina has created three T-shirts. The front says “Hokies” with Dara’s No. 4, and the back says “Irish” with Marina’s No. 3. She is keeping one for herself, and planned to give the others to Dara and their mother, Patti, on Tuesday night when they meet at Notre Dame’s hotel.
Patti Mabrey will wear her T-shirt in the Cassell stands Wednesday.
“I know she’s sitting behind our bench because she’s using my tickets,” Dara said.
“I only can hope that both play well,” Patti Mabrey said in a phone interview. “I’ll be cheering for both of them.”
The girls’ parents will both make the trip from Belmar, New Jersey, for the game. Roy Mabrey was going to have to miss the game for work reasons but got a last-minute reprieve.
Wednesday’s game — the lone regular-season meeting between the teams — was a “huge topic” when the family gathered for Christmas, said Dara.
The girls’ siblings will not be on hand Wednesday, though.
Eldest sister Michaela, a former Notre Dame standout, will have to miss the game because of her duties on the LSU women’s basketball staff.
The youngest sibling, Ryan, who plays high school boys basketball, will be back home in New Jersey. The oldest sibling, Roy III, a former NCAA Division II standout, can’t make it because of his high school basketball coaching job in New Jersey.
“All the kids compete against each other,” said their mother. “When they come home for Christmas, it’s the annual one-on-one game where they just do a round-robin. Whoever wins stays on the court. It gets pretty heated.”
The five siblings have always been competitive with each other.
“Growing up, losing to a sibling probably hurts more … because you’ve got to hear it the rest of the day, like ‘I beat you one-on-one, so I get to sit in the front seat,’” Dara said.
Patti Mabrey is not surprised her four oldest children became college basketball players.
“When everybody’s going to this party and that party, they’re going to the gym,” she said. “Everybody has a level of dedication and a work ethic.”
As high school teammates, Dara and Marina used to get up early and shoot with each other at the school gym.
“We’re still really close now,” Dara said. “I talk to her every single day. I watch all of her games. Even if I can’t watch them [live], I’ll record them. She does the same for me.
“Our family is just a huge support system. … If I’m going to turn to somebody, it’s going to be my family first, and it’s usually Marina.”
The sisters might have to guard each other on Wednesday.
“I know a lot of her movements, she knows a lot of mine. So it will be a good matchup if we do face each other in that man-to-man setting,” Dara said. “On defense, too, I know what she’s going to do, just because I’ve played against her at home and have watched everything that she does.”
Because of her sisters, Dara is used to rooting for Notre Dame.
Michaela was part of Notre Dame’s 2013, 2014 and 2015 Final Four teams.
Marina averaged 14.4 points last season, when she made the All-ACC second team and helped Notre Dame win the NCAA title. She is averaging 14.1 points for Notre Dame (16-1, 4-0) this season.
“Marina is fearless,” said Dara, who was in the stands at the Final Four last year. “She’s a point guard that can do everything. She can score, she can pass, make her teammates better, run the offense with a defender on her the whole time.”
Marina and teammates Arike Ogunbowale, Brianna Turner and Jessica Shepard are all expected to be taken in the top two rounds of the WNBA draft this year.
“I know them all really well,” Dara said.
After watching each other’s games, Dara and Marina will offer each other pointers on the phone.
Dara is averaging 12 points for the Hokies (13-3, 0-3).
“I don’t want to her to shoot into my face, so I’ve got to get my hand up,” Marina said. “She shoots it into my face a lot at home.
“When we were younger and stuff, it was competitive. … She broke my tooth when I was in fifth grade.”
Bragging rights will be on the line again on Wednesday.
“I’ll hear it, just like I would at home,” Dara said.