Lindsey Linard has always stood out.
She was the 5-foot-10 girl standing head and shoulders above everyone else in Mrs. Gacek’s fifth-grade class picture at Blake Elementary.
She was the sixth-grader who had to have 5-8 mother Cathy or 6-3 father Mike bring her birth certificate to travel basketball tournaments, because she was so tall opposing coaches would always question her age.
Now she’s a 6-foot-3 high school junior in her third year on the Medina varsity basketball team and owner of a college scholarship to continue her career at Duquesne
“Anywhere I go, people will comment on it,” Linard said of her height. “I’ve learned it makes me who I am.”
From a chubby third-grader who hated it when her dad signed her up for a recreational basketball league to a sixth-grader who could dominate without her feet ever leaving the floor to a ninth-grader who sometimes cried when varsity coach Karen Kase was hard on her, Linard has developed into a secure, self-confident 17-year-old who fits in as easily as she stands out.
The left-handed center’s individual numbers aren’t eye-popping — 9.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 1.7 steals, 3.1 blocks — but Linard is the biggest reason, in more ways than one, why the Bees are 14-0 overall and 8-0 in the Greater Cleveland Conference heading into a Saturday home game against Shaker Heights (0-12, 0-8).
“She’s a great asset to our team, both offensively and defensively, because of her height and athleticism,” said 6-1 sophomore Sarah McKee, who joins with Linard and 6-0 senior Abby McMullen to give Medina one of the tallest and longest teams in the area. “She’s worked really hard to improve.
“She’s very unselfish. She’s a good passer and will look for the best option for the team. And she’s a big presence in the key defensively. She protects the rim and either gets blocks or intimidates the shot.”
In a word, Linard is selfless, but that doesn’t make her the slightest bit unique on a Medina team filled with selfless players.
Though in single digits, her scoring average leads the team, with McKee (9.4), Madison Luthy (8.1) and Elizabeth Stuart (7.7) not far behind. Linard also is tops in rebounding and blocks, but it is her mere presence — on both ends of the floor — that often helps Medina the most.
Whether playing full-court man, run-and-jump or 2-3 zone, the Bees know they have someone protecting the rim. Linard’s length and shot-blocking have helped Medina hold opponents to 35.2 points a game, which has more than made up for an offense that sometimes goes through dry spells while averaging 53.6 points.
“She’s always been ready defensively, even as a freshman,” Kase said. “But junior Lindsey is better than freshman Lindsey. Now she blocks shots and gets the ball back. The girls know she’s back there because she talks and she’s in the right places.”
Offensively, Linard is frequently double-teamed, which allows her teammates to get a lot of open looks, particularly from behind the 3-point line. Neither she nor Kase is happy with her current .462 shooting from the field, but Linard’s .729 performance at the line shows she has touch and range, to the extent Kase can see her center taking a fair amount of 3-pointers as a senior.
“She will still grow (offensively) as a player,” Kase said. “She needs to keep getting stronger and more efficient at finishing. When you’re that close in, your shooting percentage needs to be higher.”
“Part of it is getting used to the physicality and double teams, but I need to get used to it because it’s always going to happen,” Linard said. “It’s a matter of working on my strength and footwork and finishing.”
Given Linard’s work ethic, improvement seems to be a given. She was awake at 5 a.m. Thursday and working out by 5:45 with McMullen and Luthy at Elite Training Performance. McKee and guard Aly Dwyer also are part of the normal morning group, but they were unable to attend.
“I love basketball and studying it,” Linard said. “The next step for me is translating the things I’m working on into things that I know I can do, so that I can always do them.”
This love for the game was not instantaneous. When Linard started playing on eight-foot rims at the Medina Community Recreation Center as a third-grader, she “hated the sport.”
By fourth grade, though, she was playing on a travel team. By fifth and sixth grade, she was enjoying a lot of success, to the chagrin of opposing coaches who questioned her age.
“I was good because I was tall, not because I was good at basketball,” Linard said with a laugh. “But I had the drive to learn by then.”
With success has come comfort and confidence, but not complacency.
“Freshman Lindsey was quiet and shy,” Kase said. “She listened and was very attentive and she wanted to please everybody, but sometimes she’d cry at practice when I yelled at her. She’s mentally tougher now.”
Linard now laughs when the crying episodes are brought up. The original plan was for her to play junior varsity as a freshman, but it quickly became apparent she could help the varsity, so she never stepped foot on the court with the JV team.
“It was really intimidating,” she said. “I was really excited to be getting the chance, but I was nervous. I didn’t know the girls on the team that well and I really looked up to them. I’m really hard on myself, so I was my biggest critic. I put a lot of pressure on myself. At that point, I wasn’t mentally strong enough to deal with all that.
“Now, it’s a good feeling being comfortable. I have a lot more experience than I did before and these teammates are all my best friends. Being in that state helps me perform better.”
And stand out, though Linard remains most proud of how she and her teammates blend as one. A virtual lock to be the top seed at the Valley Forge Division I District, the Bees have a chance to secure the program’s first regional berth since Kase was a sophomore at Medina in 1992-93.
“It makes everybody better knowing we don’t rely on one person to score all the points,” Linard said. “If we had one person scoring 40 points, no one else would step up. It’s an awesome feeling knowing every person can make a difference in every game.”
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