January 23, 2023 

Notre Dame’s Dara Mabrey to miss rest of season with ACL injury

Notre Dame loses a veteran leader and a great shooter

It shouldn’t be ending this way for Dara Mabrey. But sometimes, basketball is cruel.

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Less than two minutes into what would be a home win for Notre Dame against Virginia on Sunday, Mabrey – as she often does – perfectly timed a jump into a passing lane and stole away a possession from the Cavaliers. She sprinted up the court, and two points via the fastbreak seemed like a sure thing from the fifth-year guard. And then, as she stepped inside the semicircle to gather her shot, Mabrey grabbed her right knee, fell to the court and screamed. Mabrey couldn’t put any weight on the leg and after minutes on the court, she had to be helped off.

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“It was a little bit emotional for us, and I’m very proud of the way we responded,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said after the game, which wound up being 76-54 victory for the Irish. “I’m proud of our grit, our poise.”

But on Monday night, around 7:29 p.m., Mabrey confirmed everyone’s worst fears, sharing in a tweet that she suffered an ACL injury and that her season – her last for Notre Dame – is over.

“I know I will find peace with my situation as I recover in the coming months,” Mabrey wrote. “I can honestly say I poured my heart and soul into this program. With that being said, while my time on the court might be done, I’m ready to continue to lead my team from the sideline. This team is special, and I can’t wait to see what we can do.”

Notre Dame is currently the highest-ranked ACC team in the AP Top 25 Poll, checking in at No. 7 this week. With a 7-1 mark in conference play, the Irish are also tied atop the league standings with Duke.

But Mabrey’s loss is a huge one for the Irish – a team with legitimate aspirations of winning the ACC and returning to the Final Four this season. Mabrey had started all 18 games for Notre Dame this season and was arguably the team’s top 3-point shooter (making 1.8 per game from behind the arc) and also contributed 9.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals per game. She was also a veteran leader for an Irish team filled with juniors and sophomores.

And Mabrey’s absence probably means that Ivey will lean on freshman KK Bransford to replace her in the starting lineup. Bransford – tabbed by ESPN as the 29th best recruit in the country in the 2022 class – is averaging 7.9 points on 48% shooting in 20.8 minutes per game this season. Bransford is one of just two non-starters for Notre Dame – along with post Lauren Ebo – who is playing more than 11 minutes per game for Ivey this season.

Mabrey will leave college basketball as one of the best 3-point shooters the ACC has ever seen. In 135 games, she made 301 shots from behind the arc – more than either of her older sisters did. As a freshman at Virginia Tech, she knocked down 80 shots from deep – setting a program single-season record – and led the ACC in 3-point shooting with a 46.2% clip. The following season, she helped the Hokies win 11 ACC games, the most it ever had since joining the conference in 2004.

The following season, amidst the pandemic, she joined Notre Dame, where her sisters once starred and was a key player as Ivey built the program back into one to be reckoned with. She committed to Notre Dame two months after Muffet McGraw announced her retirement following a 13-18 season. Last year, Mabrey helped the Irish advance all the way to the Sweet 16.

That will be Mabrey’s legacy – a player who helped lay the foundation for two strong eras at two different programs. Fans of Virginia Tech and Notre Dame will, respectively, point to Elizabeth Kitley and Olivia Miles as the players who revived their programs, but Mabrey was there too; she started in every game she ever played in for the Hokies and the Irish.

“Dara is our heart and soul. She’s our leader. She’s our senior,” Ivey said Sunday. “We had to play the game for her.”

Written by Mitchell Northam

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