NORWALK — Katie Neate harassed ballhandlers up top, Lindsey Linard swatted shooters down low and Abby McMullen stuck to her assignments like glue.
Defense was the theme of a great season by the Medina girls basketball team, and it was its top attribute Tuesday in a 49-28 loss to Toledo Notre Dame Academy in the Norwalk Division I Regional semifinals.
The Bees limited the Eagles to eight points in both the second and third quarters, holding the Toledo District champions to their worst offensive output in five 2019 tournament games.
As a result, Notre Dame’s margin of victory also was its lowest after previously advancing by 47, 35, 40 and 23 points.
“We switched things up defensively quite a bit during the game, but the girls listened and tried their hardest, no matter what they were asked to do,” Medina coach Karen Kase said. “It’s no secret that we have to lead with our defense, and that’s what kept us competitive for a while tonight.”
Neate had a team-high three steals off the bench, but that doesn’t come close to illustrating her impact. The gritty guard bodied up against — and aggravated — each Eagles player she was matched up with, forcing six turnovers before fouling out.
The Bees fed off her energy in half-court sets, while Notre Dame attempted and failed to get under her skin in return, much to the delight of her teammates.
“We can always count on Katie to get stops and get people frustrated because of how hard she goes at them,” Linard said. “The great thing about our team is every single one of us is good defensively, so we can mesh together and be one unit because we have a lot of trust in each other.”
It helps when your last line of defense is an NCAA Division I-bound center. Neate, senior small forward McMullen and senior point guard Alexa Nau funneled players toward Duquesne recruit Linard, who blocked five shots, deflected three more and affected countless others.
The 6-foot-3 junior also had two steals and led Medina with seven points and seven rebounds.
“Katie and Lindsey definitely were our toughest players tonight,” Kase said. “The game didn’t go the way we had hoped, but I’m so proud of everything this group accomplished. To be one of the best teams in school history is something special that they’ll appreciate for many years to come.”
No one figures to savor the memories more than Neate, a soccer standout who returned for her senior season after sitting out last winter. She teamed with Nau to form an effective 1-2 punch at the point, and assumed a much larger role after sophomore Aly Dwyer suffered a season-ending knee injury.
To their credit, Medina’s upperclassmen and its coaching staff welcomed Neate back with open arms. She repaid them by being a vital contributor in their 23-3, district championship campaign.
“I can’t thank my teammates enough, allowing me to come back meant so much,” Neate said. “My role was to bring the defense, and we worked so hard every game, including tonight. We always played with our heads, heart and hustle, no matter what.
“The coaches gave us every opportunity to be successful, and I’m really proud of everything that we accomplished together.”