Bucknell’s Mack taking to new position

LEWISBURG — Right before every tip off, Ellie Mack takes a moment to be thankful. Despite the chaos and distractions of bright lights, screaming fans, blaring music and two colossal video boards, the Bucknell junior forward isn’t concerned about all the extracurriculars.

She’s just appreciative to be back on the floor helping her team win. And the Bison (26-5 overall) have done that a lot this year and hosts Holy Cross today at 6 p.m. in the Patriot League semifinal.

“It has been a really long road. I’m just happy to be out on the court,” Mack said. “It just puts it into perspective if we win or lose, it doens’t really matter as long as I can step out onto the court.”

Now a junior, Mack missed her freshman season with a torn ACL she suffered in a high school all-star game the summer prior coming to Lewisburg. It was her second torn ACL in three years and it was a difficult process to go through for the second time.

At 6-foot-3, she turned into the tallest cheerleader in Sojka Pavilion and entertained her teammates with dances and animated celebrations. But it wasn’t where Mack wanted to be. It was difficult to watch from the sideline and her sophomore season was also difficult, but for different reasons.

As a guard in high school, where she scored 1,001 points in just three years at Conestoga, she was able to shoot over smaller guards and was athletic enough to get around them. Her sophomore year, she still wasn’t completely healthy and had trouble adjusting to the Division I level with smaller and quicker guards.

“I think a lot of it was getting comfort. I was really uncomfortable last year. I was guarding people that were smaller and a lot faster than me,” Mack said. “My teammates have been great, really helping me, just trying to help me develop. Same with my coaches, Coach (Darren Guensch) is giving me a lot of confidence.”

“I think people don’t realize how much we were missing her in that season two years ago. Ellie was a really special player and a tremendous recruit that we got,” Bucknell coach Aaron Roussell said. “We were still able to play well two years ago but that was tough going into the season for us because it’s something that we thought about and we thought we had a really special group out there and all of a sudden, we didn’t have her. Last year was a little bit more of a recovery. Doing some things that were uncomfortable to her. To have her back this year, we saw her back healthy over the summer and then now she has changed what we’ve been able to do with this program.”

In her first season starting, Mack has helped Bucknell win 26 games, capture a second straight Patriot League regular season title and has put it in good position to win its second Patriot League Championship in three years. But individually, she’s made an eye-popping improvement, and a move from guard to the post has helped her already become a First Team All-Patriot League selection with just 31 games played at a new position.

After averaging 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds as a first-year player, Mack is averaging 12.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. She also has more assists (20-68), steals (21-30) and blocks (11-36) and has increased both her field goal percentage (47 percent-51 percent) and 3-point field goal percentage (37-40).

“I think the talent was already there. She’s as good as a recruit that we’ve ever gotten here,” Roussell said. “I think this was, I hate to say expected, I think it was more of a process for her to get healthy and get comfortable in the offseason I think once she came back healthy and looked as good as she did, I hate to say it but this was the expectation for her.”

Though Mack’s not totally thrilled with her post skills yet, “I don’t have any back to the basket moves except turn and shoot.” She has a good teacher to learn from in postmate and three-time All-Patriot League selection Kaitlyn Slagus, who’s doing everything she can to pass on her knowledge in the paint onto an underclassman.

“She’s my go-to. We have this post-to-post connection,” Slagus said. “She’s a lot of fun and I try to help her out as much as I can and just give her advice that’ll help her carry the team next year because we’re losing five seniors. She has a lot to do next year.”