MABREY STAMPS HER CAREER AS TOC CHAMP
The voice of reason inside the head of Dara Mabrey was desperately trying to fight through the racket of emotional sound bites consuming the Manasquan star. It had a message of extreme urgency.
Her conscience is quite understanding. It recognized the magnitude of the moment for the passionate and energetic senior and her penchant for wanting to make plays. It was also powerful enough to raise the volume a few decibels above the surrounding fervor to drive home its point loud and clear.
The missive implored her to stay true to where her game emanates – the heart – but, more pointedly, to clear a cluttered mind gradaully ridden with guilt and angst, to not lose sight of what exactly the moment was begging for and how sparse time was in order for it to be seized.
“I took some bad shots. I usually take a couple of those a game,” conceded the critical point guard. “I live with those. But, then there were some, where I was like ‘Dara, calm down and go check yourself. You have four minutes to play with Manasquan across your chest. Go do something.’ I was definitely frustrated.”
So, too was Manasquan, which went from the precipice of euphoria with a 17-point lead early in the third to sweating bullets under a magical spell cast by a proud and unrelenting Franklin cast that whittled the margin to a mere one with just over three minutes left, doggedly determined to defend its Tournament of Champions throne and break Manasquan’s heart for a second consecutive year.
Amid the chaos, Mabrey hatched a defining response, one that cemented her legacy as a fighter, proclaimed her the consummate leader in times of duress and applied the finishing touches on a resume simply impeccable.
Her rebuttal to a subpar 3-for-11 showing from the field over the first three quarters was to flirt with perfection over the final eight minutes of her high-school career.
Silencing the swirling turmoil within her head, Mabrey reached into her soul to summon a finish worthy of a TOC title. She connected on 5 of 6 shots from the floor - one more timely than the next – in the fourth quarter, the stamp not only on a game-high 30 points but the exclamation point to a sterling four-year run sealed with a 72-60 victory over Franklin and the second Tournament of Champions title of her tenure.
Mabrey exploded for 15 points in the fourth, stemming Franklin’s momentum each time it threatened to grab a lead. Yes, she was fueled in large part by avenging last year’s 50-48 overtime loss in the TOC final but also to finish as she’d always envisioned – on top of the world.
Everything came to a head with 6:10 left in the contest and Manasquan (32-2) nursing a 51-46 advantage. Mabrey flashed to the top of the arc, grabbed a feed from junior Faith Masonius and splashed a 3-pointer.
“There’s been games where it’s worked against me,” Mabrey said of emotions overriding her composure. “When I hit that three, as I walked down (to the baseline) to come through the double screen, I said to myself ‘you’re going to make this shot and the crowd is going to go insane.' What do you know? I made the shot.”
After Franklin (25-8) clawed back to within 56-55, Mabrey answered again, curling off a Masonius screen for a layup, sparking a 14-5 tear over the last 2:31 that secured the outcome.
“Franklin is a tough team and has really good defenders,” said Mabrey. “I knew when the score started (shrinking), I had to do something. I said a prayer during the game. I knew I was going to do something to win.”
The victory and her part in it was satisfying to Mabrey beyond the obvious. For the last month, the 5-7 Virginia Tech recruit has been held together by rubber bands and paper clips. She injured ligaments in her left hand on Feb. 20 and rolled her left ankle on Friday in a semifinal triumph over Saddle River Day.
Neither ailment was enough to break her resolve to finish a ride filled with achievements …and one perceived slight. Mabrey added this title to the TOC trophy she helped claim as a freshman when the Warriors edged St. Rose, 59-55, in the 2015 finale. She joined older sisters Marina and Michaela in the esteemed 2,000-point club and was twice named the Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year.
However, what she did not receive this season was recognition as a McDonald’s All-American, a snub that hit her hard, but supplied added incentive.
“She is obviously one of my best friends and will be for the rest of our lives,” said fellow senior and backcourt partner Carly Geissler. “She was upset because she didn’t get that honor she worked really hard for and I thought she deserved entirely. Faith and I were in a room with her and she was crying her eyes out. I told her there wasn’t another player in the world I ever wanted to be on the court with but her.”
Such sentiments reveal how much Mabrey means to her teammates. She is the epitome of one herself, quick with a smile or high five to note another’s play.
"Dara was a very intense person from the minute I met her," said junior guard Lola Mullaney, who transfered to Manasquan from Colts Neck as a sophomore and developed an instant bond with Mabrey, who that helped her supply 16 points in the win. "She grew on me as a friend and someone I looked up to. As time progressed, we started playing even better together."
"She has the best personality," added Masonius, who ended with 23 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. "She knows how to make someone laugh, make someone smile. Off the court, she is one of our best friends."
Those insights reveal someone paying things forward, knowing what that type of acknowledgement means after reveling in the same when it was bestowed upon her by her older sisters.
As the youngest of the three, Dara had to deal with unfair comparisons. Michaela was a 6-0 point guard with a gliding, effortless style, Marina a rugged 5-11 swing who relished the physicality of the game.
Dara was the hustler, a firecracker who wore her emotions on her sleeve, but knew when they had to be tempered, evident by her final performance. She – and the little voice inside her head – are once again Tournament of Champions winners.