Ellie Mack making a drive against Florida State
Photo: Marc Hagemeier
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Ellie Mack ’20 makes a drive against Florida State during last spring’s NCAA Tournament.
Loving the Challenge
by Andrew Faught
Six weeks before Ellie Mack ’20 arrived at Bucknell as a lauded basketball recruit, excitement gave way to a painful reality.

The 6-foot-3-inch forward from Paoli, Pa., was competing in a high school all-star game when she stole the ball and broke for the other team’s basket. En route, she stepped on another player’s foot, which wrenched her ankle and caused an audible “pop” in her left knee.

“My knee felt loose, and I didn’t have control over my motor movements,” Mack recalls. “I remember lying on the gym floor staring at the ceiling. The first thing I said was, ‘I just tore my ACL.’ ”

The anterior cruciate ligament helps stabilize the knee joint. Recovery is a months-long process that forced Mack to sit out her first season. She said rehabilitation was an “extremely difficult” time, during which she occasionally worried whether her skills would return.

“Having healthy knees is important, because it affects your shooting, your cutting and your ability to play defense,” says Mack, who recovered but suffered tendonitis of the patella, a result of the injury. “I was in a lot of pain my sophomore year, but it was something that I fought through, and I was able to play every single game — and I never missed a practice.”

As one of just two seniors this year — last year’s Patriot League championship team lost five players to graduation — Mack is expected to play a leadership role as the team attempts for the third time in the last five years to prevail in the NCAA Tournament.

In last year’s tournament, the 12th-seeded Bison lost 70-67 to fifth-seeded Florida State. Despite scoring 12 points, Mack rues her 3-for-12 shooting from the field (“I think about that game a lot”), but it serves as motivation for the current campaign. Mack is expected to be an important cog: She was a first-team, all-league honoree last season, and with a grade point average just under 3.5, the neuroscience major has three times made the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll.

When she isn’t on the court, Mack is studying. “It’s like you have two full-time jobs,” she says. “But with basketball and academics, I love being challenged.”

These days she’s also weighing career options, which she expects will involve the health-care field. Recent experiences have prepared her well: interning at a pharmaceuticals company and observing a physical-therapy clinic — a field she knows well from personal experience.

But with the season in full swing, her mind is on basketball.

“My main role,” she says, “is to hold people accountable for their actions and maintain the culture that we’ve been able to develop over the last couple of years. I have a lot of faith in us. We have really talented players. It’s a matter of developing chemistry and learning how to play together.”

Instant Replay
Greatest career highlight
Scoring 29 points and making seven 3-pointers against Army to secure the 2019 Patriot League Championship.
Learning from adversity
“As an athlete, being injured can either derail a career or make you better,” Mack says. “My injuries challenged me, but ultimately I became a stronger person and player because of them.”
On leadership
“Leadership can manifest itself in many different forms,” Mack says. “To me it means trying to hold myself to the highest standard and providing an example for younger players.”
Lessons Learned on the Field That Spill Into the Classroom
Says Mack, “I have found that preparation is the best indicator for success in both environments.”