She's not the fastest, quickest or tallest player on the court. She's not even the best jumper.
But by game’s end, Dara Zack, Saint Martin’s undersized forward with the oversized heart, is often the player with the most points and most rebounds. She’s the overachiever with one approach to the game – all-out effort.
Before Zack, a four-year starter, plays her final college game next month, she’ll likely end up being Saint Martin’s all-time leader in points and rebounds.
“I’d say that Dara gets more out of what talent she has than any kid I’ve seen,” Saints coach Tim Healy said. “She’s not the most physically gifted. But she’s the hardest worker.”
After practice, Zack usually heads to the school’s rec center and shoots for another hour, alone. She pops jumper after jumper, perfecting her shot. She puts in about eight hours extra each week.
“It’s a confidence thing,” Zack said. “I feel that if I put in enough time, I’ll make the shot when I have to.”
With 16 points in Saturday’s 62-61 loss at Montana State Billings, Zack moved into the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s top-10 list for career points. She needs 25 more rebounds to move into the top 10 in that category, too. In her 100 games with the Saints, Zack has 1,349 points and 753 rebounds.
She’s already SMU’s all-time leading rebounder, and she’s second in scoring, just 76 points behind Beth Layton, who scored 1,425 points from 2003-06. With 11 games remaining, Zack has to average 6.9 points – more than eight below her season average – to pass Layton.
But Zack said she’s impressed with only one stat. That’s SMU’s 55 wins in her four seasons.
“It’s about winning,” Zack said.
Zack, who is named after her grandmother, is listed at 5-foot-10. But she admits she’s closer to 5-7.
“I’m not sure there’s a more competitive player on a day-to-day basis,” Healy said. “She brings it every single day, every single practice, every single game.”
At the end of stretching at the start of each practice, Healy usually asks Zack to lead the team in a cheer. She’s the team’s motivator.
“In basketball, it’s everyone working as hard as they can for one goal,” Zack said. “Hopefully, I can look my teammates in the eye and say that I’m working as hard as I can.”
Roni Jo Mielke, Zack’s teammate and roommate for four years, has seen Zack’s competitive side on and off the basketball court. That drive to win shows up even in board games.
“While she doesn’t like to admit it, she’s competitive in whatever she does,” Mielke said. “She likes to win. She’s a leader in actions and in words.”
When a player isn’t pushing herself in practice, Zack is often the prod, pushing with a “Let’s go!”
“But she’s never a bad teammate,” Mielke said. “She never gets into their face. It’s responsible. Not a bad teammate thing.”
On Thursday, Saint Martin’s pulled a 54-53 upset at No. 20 Seattle Pacific on Mielke’s 15-foot jumper with 13.6 seconds left. Zack then stole the ball, sealing the win. The Saints had lost their previous 12 games at SPU.
For the third season in a row, Zack is leading SMU in scoring, averaging 15.3 points, and she is averaging 6.1 rebounds.
Zack is no stranger to taking extra shooting practice. While in high school, she and her teammates at University High near Spokane used to sneak into the gym on the weekends to play pickup games.
“She’s a gym rat. She’s in the gym a lot,” SMU assistant coach Lisa Hendrickson said. “She holds herself accountable. She wants to do her part to contribute to help us win. She feels she’s letting the team down when she’s not putting in that extra time.”
The hard work has improved Zack’s shooting touch. As a freshman, she shot 26 percent from 3-point range and 67 percent from the free-throw line. This season, she’s shooting 39 percent from 3-point range and 81 percent from the line.
“I’m not going to let my teammates down,” Zack said. “I know they’re not letting me down.”