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'As tough as they come': Montana State senior Katelynn Limardo's resilience fueled by competitive fire

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Posted at 1:49 PM, Mar 09, 2024

BOZEMAN — The Montana State women's basketball team has found an identity in overcoming and persevering through adversity this season.

Four-year starter and standout senior guard Katelynn Limardo has personified that mindset, working her way back to the elite level she competes at after suffering a scary injury during the first Cat-Griz game of the season in Worthington Arena on Jan. 20.

She snatched a rebound and came down with the ball. Then Montana's Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw committed an intentional foul on Limardo, sending her hard to the ground.

The crowd audibly gasped as she hit the court and grabbed her neck. Silence then fell over the arena as trainers, teammates and family surrounded Limardo.

A few minutes later someone from the crowd yelled a message.

"I remember someone saying, 'We love you, Katelynn,'" Limardo recalled. "Laying there on the floor just made me realize I am so loved. Despite everything going on right now, people really do care about their players, their athletes, just as a person, too."

Limardo was on the ground in a neck brace for just over 30 minutes until the trainers moved her to a stretcher and brought her to the hospital to be examined.

Bobcats coach Tricia Binford thought back on that moment.

"This is our family, so everybody was in a waiting period in that moment and making sure she’s OK," Binford explained. "Speeding things up that evening, getting some really positive news and each day getting some better results."

For Limardo, that day changed her perspective of not just the game, but life.

"That night that everything went down, I was really freaked out and honestly just paranoid, because I knew that I might not be the same player as I was," she said. "Honestly, just reflecting during that time, like OK, I can walk, this is a great thing for me.

"And just being able to support my teammates in ways I hadn’t before just gave me a better outlook on, this is fragile, playing is important, but just being able to walk and do daily things like brush my hair, it was a big challenge initially."

She was discharged from the hospital that night and missed about two weeks of play as she recovered from the injury and sustained soreness.

The road to recovery would be taxing, but those who know Limardo, who goes by KJ, know she's resilient and fueled by her competitiveness.

"Nobody is going to out-compete KJ, whether it’s a practice or a game," Binford said. "That is going to set the tone for us, as far as the level it needs to be at. You know, she continues to stretch her game and the level it needs to be at, but also this kid hates to lose, and so I think that is something our kids feed off of."

As her game has evolved, the competitive fire has been a constant.

"I hate losing, and it’s something ever since I was little I was just super competitive," she reflected. "Whether that was playing board games with my family, it was just something that, you know, losing wasn’t an option. I wanted to play college basketball, and I wasn’t going to let someone (tell me) that I was too skinny or wasn’t good enough. That wasn’t an option for me."

Binford's confidence in Limardo, and her entire team, is one of the most special aspects of playing for her.

"Having a coach that believes in you and wants the best for you every single day is something that I value so much, and so just having her support and having her on the sidelines cheering me on is really what has pushed to be my best and give her my all because she’s given everything she can for me," Limardo said with a smile.

Limardo is one of the team’s top scorers (11.1 points per game), leads the Bobcats in rebounding (6.5 per game), and was just named to the all-Big Sky Conference defensive team. Despite the trials this regular season provided, Limardo stuck to her process, one that’s continued to prove success.

"When you think about what KJ’s been through, what her body takes on a daily basis, how hard she plays day in and day out, the kid always shows up, she always prepares, she’s very consistent, and that’s as tough as they come," Binford said.

A toughness and resilience you can't teach.

The No. 4 Montana State women play at noon Monday against No. 5 Northern Colorado in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky tournament at Boise, Idaho.