Editor's note: This is the sixth in an eight-part series profiling some of the state's basketball stars as 406mtsports.com previews the 2017-18 season.
THREE FORKS — Shainy Mack and Three Forks had an epiphany last season.
It had been six years since the Wolves won a game at the Class B girls state basketball tournament, and they weren’t expected to contend for such spoils 12 months ago, either. But they proved their detractors wrong, stormed to the state tourney and capped the 2016-17 season by winning the third-place trophy.
Granted, it was only a taste of long-awaited success. But Three Forks — led by the precocious Mack, who is one of the top players in Class B — has its sights set on bigger things.
“Last year we kind of talked about being a dark horse because no one knew about us,” said Mack, a senior guard. “I think this year that will change because we put our name out there and we won some games at a higher level than we’re used to.
“We won’t be the dark horse anymore. We showed we can play.”
That they can, although the Wolves will seemingly only go as far as Mack can lead them.
Growing up in the shadow of successful siblings and relatives, Mack took an individual step last year as Three Forks won the District 5B tournament, took second at the Southern B divisional and went on to place third at state.
In her final seven postseason games last year, Mack averaged 17.4 points. She scored 21 in a two-point loss to eventual runner-up Malta in the first round of the state tournament. She had 23 in a loser-out contest against Wolf Point, a win that propelled Three Forks into the consolation game.
Admittedly, Mack played timidly as a freshman and sophomore but grew up last season under the guidance of first-year coach Mike Sauvageau and a strong supporting cast that included Kyle Olson (a Bozeman transfer), Talyn Pitcher and Morgan Allen.
“She’s a motivated kid. She puts time in. She’s just one of those kids you don’t have to worry about,” Sauvageau said of Mack. “She’s always there, she never missed a practice last year, she’s a leader, she’s our go-to person.
“When she plays well we play really well, and when she doesn’t play well we kind of struggle a little bit. You could just see it last year — when Shainy had a good night we had a good night.”
Mack grew up ensconced in sports. Her brother Shann was a standout athlete at Three Forks until he graduated in 2005, and sisters Shelby and Shayla also helped pave Shainy’s path.
Shelby Mack played volleyball at Montana Western in Dillon, while Shayla played basketball at both Montana State in Bozeman and Montana Tech in Butte.
Furthermore, Shainy Mack’s uncles are Mick and Mark Durham: Mick Durham was the longtime coach of the men’s basketball team at MSU, and Mark was a coach and athletic director at Western. Their kids, Casey and Kalli Durham, each played hoops with the Bobcats.
And her grandfather, Lindon “Doc” Durham, played basketball at both Western and MSU in the late-1940s.
Shainy Mack grew up playing on a boys travel team, which honed her skills even further.
“It definitely shaped me. I was in the gym a lot. I was the baby getting passed around in a sweaty gym,” said Mack, who is also a three-time all-state volleyball player and a stellar golfer for Three Forks.
“I think you can tell the players that have been around the game, but it’s not like I didn’t have a choice whether or not to like basketball. I love it anyway. It’s so easy to love, especially when your family is so into it. It was so easy to follow it and learn about it and become a smart player.”
The next step for Mack and her teammates — they believe — is to again qualify for the state tournament, and to perhaps go deeper to challenge the Fairfields, the Maltas and the Townsends of the world.
Those prospects did hit a potential snag, though, when Pitcher was lost for the year due to an ACL injury suffered at the end of the volleyball season. Both Mack and Sauvageau pointed to Pitcher’s injury as a cause for concern, though Mack is intent on raising her game further.
“I think it’s kind of an eye-opener for some of our other players,” Mack said. “We know we need to fill her shoes. We’re going to definitely have to do that in order to get it done this year.
“There are players on the team that will fill the void. I’ll step up, but some of our other girls will, too.
“At the end of last year we almost hit our peak I feel like, and coming into a new season we just want to keep going up.”