During the regular season, Handley head track & field coach Mike McKiernan never had Taylor Beard compete in more than four events in a single meet in order to keep her as healthy and productive as possible.
The postseason is a different animal, though. And in order for the Judges’ girls’ program to win its first postseason title since 2014, McKiernan knew he’d have to summon the competitive beast that lives within Beard’s otherwise genial persona.
“I told her, ‘You’re going to have a big day at [the Class 4 Northwestern] district meet,’” said McKiernan while standing on Handley’s high jump apron three weeks ago. “She said, ‘That’s OK, that’s what championship season’s all about.’”
After pausing for a couple of moments, McKiernan said, “What more do I say? That’s the perfect answer.”
When it comes to working extra or working hard, Beard’s attitude has always been, “Pile it on.” Handley won the district meet on May 13 at Culpeper High School behind Beard’s perfect six wins in six events.
Whether she’s playing pickup ball with boys every day over the summer to improve her basketball skills or taking on extra events in track to help her team or her teammates, Beard’s always willing to do whatever it takes. She’s The Winchester Star’s Girls’ Athlete of the Year in 2018-19 for her athletic skill, but also her attitude. It’s the second straight year she’s earned the award.
“Taylor is someone who’s the whole package,” McKiernan said. “She’s not only a great athlete, but a hard worker, very coachable, and a good person. That, to me, is the whole package.”
The track & field career of Beard — who is heading to the University of Cincinnati in the fall on a full scholarship — will forever be remembered at Handley. Her last two Virginia High School League meets made a particularly indelible impression.
At the Region 4C meet at Handley on May 23, Beard broke the state high jump record that had stood since 1976 with a leap of 6 feet, 0.5 inches. At the Class 4 state meet, Beard became just the third girl in state history to win all three jumping events — the high, the long and the triple — in a single state meet on May 31 and June 1 at Liberty University in Lynchburg.
The Winchester Star Girls’ Track & Field Athlete of the Year increased her total to 10 career state championships that weekend. She previously won four indoor high jump titles, three outdoor high jump state titles, and one indoor triple jump state title, which came this year.
What Beard accomplished in basketball shouldn’t be forgotten either, though.
When Cincinnati offered Beard the full track scholarship last August, she wasn’t just getting in workouts at the gym or hitting the track to keep in shape. Every day for three hours, she would go to the Youth Development Center or Jim Barnett Park and play with whatever group or boys — or men — who happened to be there that day to play basketball.
“Sometimes I’d play grown people, sometimes I’d play little kids. Sometimes there were boys from James Wood I would play with,” said Beard, who was almost always the only female participating. “I was just working on getting better, and playing pickup with the boys just helped a lot because they’re rough. Trying to score was rough.”
Beard also spent a lot of time watching video of Boston Celtics star guard Kyrie Irving to pick up tips on finishing strong at the basket.
Three hours a day focusing on basketball outside of basketball season might sound excessive for someone with a full track scholarship, but Beard couldn’t help herself. Beard played a starring role as Handley went from 2-19 her sophomore year to 12-11 her junior year, and she was intent on seeing Handley’s growth continue.
“My team, we had potential,” said Beard, who served as a basketball captain for the second straight year. “I was like, ‘If I improve my game, and everybody else improves their game, we’re going to have a great season.’ It turns out we did have a great season. It paid off.”
With Beard leading the way, Handley got off to a blazing 10-2 start. The Judges cooled a bit during the second half of the season to finish with a record of 14-8. But as Beard pointed out, with two more wins the season was still an improvement.
Some of the highlights included Handley’s first win in three years over James Wood (Beard had 19 points and 17 rebounds in the 60-40 decision against the eventual Region 4C semifinalist on Dec. 14) and a putback with four seconds left to beat Sherando 45-43 on Jan. 15.
Beard improved her stats across the board to help the Judges tie for third in the Class 4 Northwestern District standings (7-5 mark) one year after they finished fifth with a 5-7 mark. Beard ranked fourth in the area in scoring (14.1 points per game, up from 9.7 last year), third in rebounding (10.6, up from 8.8), fourth in steals (3.8, up from 2.8), third in blocks (2.0, up from 1.5) and fourth in field-goal percentage (.463, up from .458).
Beard said her increased scoring is what pleased her the most. Just two years ago, she averaged a mere 5.2 points per game, and her scoring average was even lower as a freshman JV player.
“For her, it’s always been a process of accepting that role of taking charge on the court, because she’s always so humble,” said Randi Jones, who resigned as girls’ basketball coach in March after five seasons at the helm. “When she was a sophomore and junior, she wanted to do whatever she could for the team, but she was really hesitant as far as trying to score. I would tell her, ‘You can score on anyone,’ and she’d say, ‘No, no, no.’
“I think, finally, by her senior year, she fully embraced that and played with that confidence that I was telling her she should have for so long.”
One of the best examples of that came in Handley’s win over Sherando. The Judges trailed 37-23 after three quarters, and Beard only had three points at the juncture. But Beard scored 12 points in the fourth quarter as Handley outscored Sherando 22-6, and Beard’s late rebound and basket proved to the difference.
“I used to never shoot at all,” Beard said. “For me to get confident in that area really shows how much hard work can pay off.”
It wasn’t just the stats that demonstrated the value of Beard, a second-team All-Region 4C selection this year.
“Every single game she was such a workhorse,” Jones said. “She would get a rebound, or cause a deflection and beat everyone up the court on a fastbreak, time and time again. She’d be on the floor on one end after falling, then get up and beat her whole team and everyone else up the court. Just phenomenal. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Beard’s track competitors know the feeling of looking at Beard’s back all too well.
Beard entered rare air with her jumping feats this year, but her speed was also something to behold. In addition to posting the area’s best marks (and school records) in the high jump, long jump (18-11.25) and triple jump (39-5.25), Beard was also the fastest in the 100-meter hurdles (15.29 seconds), 300 hurdles (44.63) and 200 (26.04).
The aforementioned six events were the ones that McKiernan entered Beard in for the district meet. First-place in each event is worth 10 points, and Beard’s 60 points were more than four entire teams scored in the seven-team competition. Handley won handily with 132 points (Fauquier was second with 101.33) and Beard won each of her events handily. Beard won the 100 hurdles in 15.60 (runner-up 16.76), 200 in 26.22 (runner-up 26.94), 300 hurdles in 46.91 (runner-up 50.69), high jump with a 5-8 (runner-up 5-0), long jump with a 16-7 (runner-up 15-9) and triple jump with a 37-4 (runner-up 34-3.5).
“I didn’t have a doubt that I could [do six events],” said Beard, who routinely competed in six events in meets as a junior. “It definitely put joy in my heart [to help my team win]. I just like helping them a lot. They get excited when I join the relay teams, and that means a lot to me.”
Handley had two relay teams participate at the Class 4 state meet because of Beard’s contributions.
Beard anchored the 4x400-meter team to the area’s fastest time of the year (4:08.72) at the Apple Blossom Invitational at James Wood on April 27 to qualify the team for the state meet (Beard did not compete with the relay team during the postseason). Beard also anchored the 4x100 team to the area’s fastest time (49.73) to qualify for states and win the Region 4C meet by 0.09, beating Region 4C champion 100 champion Haley Mack of Sherando on the anchor leg. Beard then volunteered to do the 4x100 at the state meet because Mary McKay was busy with the pole vault, and she anchored the team to all-state honors (seventh place).
After the Virginia High School League season ended, Beard experienced a few more memorable moments. She tied for seventh to earn All-American honors at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in North Carolina, participated in the USA Track & Field Under-20 Championships in Florida, and earlier this week was honored by the Winchester City Council for her accomplishments this year.
Simply put, she’ll be missed at Handley.
“She has got to be one of the best female athletes to have ever walked the halls of Handley,” McKiernan said. “Her success in track & field, how much better she got in basketball over the years. She worked for everything.”
Jones said the girls’ basketball program is in a better place than it was a few years ago in large part because of Beard.
“If basketball was her No. 1 sport, the sky would be the limit,” Beard said. “She’s definitely a program changer. She’s the type of person young people look at and say, ‘Wow, I want to be able to play just like that,’ but also someone to model themselves after as a person because she’s genuinely kind to people. I definitely feel fortunate to be able to coach someone like her. Hats off to her parents. I tell them all the time they’ve done a phenomenal job of raising her.”
Beard savored every moment at Handley, and can’t wait to make some new ones in Cincinnati.
“This is just such a great place to compete for,” Beard said. “Everybody supports you. It’s like a big family. I feel like I’ve been blessed to be here all four years. But I also know it is not the end. I’m definitely planning for more accomplishments coming up.”