Virginia Tech fans probably should have seen it coming. After all, Dara Mabrey was a two-time Gatorade player of the year
in New Jersey, and she led Manasquan High School to a Tournament of Champions Victory in her senior season.
Yet, when Mabrey dropped 18 points and 5 assists in her collegiate debut
, many fans still seemed surprised. Head coach Kenny Brooks, on the other hand, said he expected nothing less.
"It was pretty much what we've expected, what we've seen all preseason," said Brooks after Mabrey's standout performance in her first start against USC Upstate.
Mabrey did not seem too surprised herself after her performance either.
"Once I found some other people and open looks, I got the jitters out," said Mabrey. When reporters asked whether this kind of production was a fluke or a trend, she ensured that fans could expect these kinds of numbers throughout the season.
So far, Mabrey has kept true to her word. In the next three games, she scored 12 points against Georgia Southern, 13 against Liberty, and a staggering 26 against Monmouth.
If any doubts remained after the first three contests, Mabrey put them to rest in that performance against Monmouth. Her 7 rebounds along with the career-high 26 points helped the Hokies waltz to an easy 82-49 victory despite falling behind early.
"The first time I got a couple shots, that just boosts your confidence to keep going," said Mabrey after that game.
When Dara Mabrey is confident, it is evident, and it is dangerous. She is not afraid to pull up from beyond the arc, but she also has the ability to drive to the bucket. That is a lethal combination.
Against Villanova in the first game of the UCF Thanksgiving Classic, Mabrey had her first disappointing game of the year. However, even on a night when she struggled shooting the ball, she still managed to earn 7 points, a rebound, and a steal.
To be fair, every player is going to have some down games. Mabrey is still a freshman, and she is not always going to be perfect. Luckily, the Hokies have senior leaders that can take over on a night when the team may be struggling.
Those leaders were a big reason why the Hokies were able to edge out Villanova last Saturday. A combined 40 points and 23 rebounds from Taylor Emery and Regan Magarity allowed Virginia Tech to pull out a 61-59 victory.
Undoubtedly, Mabrey is thankful to have such good leadership on this team. As a young star, she has an opportunity to really learn and blossom under such experienced players.
At the same time, the older players are just as excited to have a young star like Mabrey join the effort. They know that she just might provide that spark to help them get over the NCAA Tournament hump this season.
"It spreads the floor out," said Emery of Mabrey's ability to shoot the three-pointer. "It helps us be able to run a lot of different things because we have everyone on the court being able to shoot the three."
Head coach Kenny Brooks agreed that Mabrey adds a new dimension to this Virginia Tech team.
"She provides a spark for us. She shoots the ball extremely well. She will help stretch the defenses and kind of 'picking your poison.' If you want to play a zone, well, she has unlimited and range and she can really shoot."
It is not just Mabrey's on the court performance that makes her so valuable. She also possesses other extremely important skills that sometimes cannot be taught. Kenny Brooks called her a "tireless worker," and that will allow her to continue to work and improve.
Mabrey displayed the fruits of her work ethic after the Villanova game. Instead of getting down on herself, she came back the very next day and got back into double digits. In that contest against Richmond, she totaled 14 points on 5-9 shooting. Mabrey also added 2 rebounds and 3 assists.
In addition, Coach Brooks talked about the importance of the name she has created for herself. When other players hear the name "Dara Mabrey," it peaks their interest.
"Another thing she does for us is just name recognition," said Brooks. "We had a big time recruit here today, and she was a rival of Dara's. It kind of opens up a lot of doors of, 'if Dara Mabrey went there, let me definitely take a look at it.' She's adding a lot to our program, and not just the points."
Regardless of whether or not fans people her name before, Mabrey is definitely making herself hard to ignore. Through seven games, she is averaging 14.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game. If she keeps improving on those numbers, Dara Mabrey will be a household name in no time.
Photo Credit: Gracie Smith and Dave Knachel (Virginia Tech Athletics)
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