Mike McKiernan has served as Handley's track & field coach since 2012 following one year as an assistant coach. From 1998-2007, McKiernan was the Judges' head girls' cross country coach.
McKiernan has been named The Winchester Star Track & Field Coach of the Year five times in his eight seasons at the helm (2012-14 and 2018-19). His 2012 girls' team won the Group AA state championship, the first for the program since 1992.
During his eight outdoor track seasons, Handley's girls have won four district/conference championships and a region title in 2012. The Judges' boys have also won four district/conference titles and won back-to-back region championships in 2018 and 2019. In 2019, the Handley boys won the Class 4 Northwestern District title, the Region 4C title and placed fourth at the Class 4 state meet. The girls also won the district meet, and they took second at the region meet and tied for fifth at the state meet.
In indoor and outdoor track, 10 people (six girls and four boys) have won at least one individual state championship while McKiernan has been a Handley track coach — Caroline Crowe, Verna Hilaire-Lee, Britani Myers, Lisa Meneau, Casey Nelson and Taylor Beard for the girls, and Dontae Mauck, Trey Causey, Tyson Long and Quinton Newman for the boys.
Handley's girls' cross country teams qualified for the Group AA state meet five consecutive years (2002-2006) under McKiernan. The team placed third in both 2002 and 2003.
At Strasburg, McKiernan started off as an assistant cross country coach in 1982 and became head coach in 1983, where he served for 15 years before leaving for Handley. McKiernan's girls' teams won Group A state titles in 1990, 1992 and 1993, and his boys' teams won state titles in 1986 and 1992. McKiernan became an assistant track coach in 1983 and became the head boys' track coach in 1990.
McKiernan graduated from Strasburg in 1978, where he competed as a distance runner on the track & field team (Strasburg did not have a cross country program at the time). McKiernan graduated from the College of William & Mary in 1982, where he competed in cross country and track & field.
Q. What are your favorite memories as an athlete?
McKiernan: My favorites memories are from practice. I really enjoyed the camaraderie. I enjoyed running with the guys. I enjoyed running with Mark Stickey (a 1980 Strasburg grad, Virginia Tech Hall of Famer and Handley cross country coach) and us trying to run on every road in Shenandoah County, though we only made the northern half of the county. At William & Mary, we used to go on a lot of long runs, and I remember running down the parkway ... if you're out on a 14-mile run with guys, you don't do anything except talk, so you really get to know your teammates really well.
[As far as meet accomplishments], I won the Shenandoah County meet my senior year in the two-mile. I used to tell Mark Stickley I was the last hack runner — as in not a very good runner — to beat him. My senior year when he was a sophomore, I beat him like three or four races in a row.
In college, I was not what you would really consider a really good or great runner. Coach [Roy] Chernock believed that if you showed up to practice every day, and did what he told you, he'd let you stay. So I got to stay.
Q. When did you know you wanted to be a coach?
McKiernan: I graduated from William & Mary, and I came home and I was looking for a job. I went in and helped out Millson French as an assistant cross country coach in the fall of '82. After I did that, I was like, 'This is my calling. This is what I want to do. I want to work with young people.' And so I went back and took some classes at James Madison University and became certified, and I became a full-time teacher in '84.
Q. Who are your biggest coaching influences?
McKiernan: Millson French, my high school track coach, and Coach Chernock were big influences. But really I'd say I've been influenced by everybody I've worked with. I've learned a lot from everybody I've worked with. I've learned not just technical things, but how to deal with young people, how to be a fair person, a good person. I feel like I've been blessed because I feel like I've learned things from every coach I've had the opportunity to work with. Recently, it's been people like [Handley assistant coaches] Roy Ferri, Allison Darling and Bill Frye, and [former Handley coaches] Lee Pegues and Emily Budnyk-Putt.
Q. What’s the best coaching advice you’ve received?
McKiernan: Millson French told me to be yourself. To coach how you are. Don't try to be somebody else. Don't try and be John Wooden or (longtime Strasburg football and track coach) Glenn Proctor or anybody else, just be who you are.
Q. What have been your most difficult coaching moments?
McKiernan: Athletes who I've had to work with who have had great emotional stress that they've had to work through. It's one of those things where the sport or the competition becomes much less important than the health of the athlete. Any time an athlete has problems beyond the track or classroom, one gets a window into the other stressors or issues in their lives. Some young people face serious obstacles.
Q. What have been your favorite coaching moments?
McKiernan: Watching athletes get better. I've really enjoyed the process of practice and watching people get better. It's a lot of fun to watch athletes clear heights in the high jump they've never done before. I really think what's enjoyable about coaching is watching the athletes improve and watching them grow as people. That's the best part of coaching.
[As far as accomplishments], one of the big fun events was when we went to [the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York in 2018] and Trey [Causey] placed second in the nation and Taylor [Beard] placed fourth to both be All-American. That was a really special moment.
And back in 2012 when we won the district, regional and state meet on the girls' side. We took some chances there with moving people around. (For example. the versatile Britani Myers took on the arduous task of running the 400 and 800 at the state meet, which are back-to-back events, and won both.) That was a lot of fun.
And when the girls' cross country team qualified for state five years in a row, that was a fun stretch as well. I remember Katelyn Mason, between her junior and senior year [in 2006], said to me, 'We've made state every year I've been here. We're not missing it in my senior year.' She and Anna Cote [like Mason, a 2007 graduate] came to me in the spring and said, 'What do we need to do to make sure we get back?' A part of me thought at that moment I knew we were going to get back. I knew if they wanted it that badly, and they were both good leaders and wonderful young people, they were going to make sure we did it, and they did. (The Judges placed fourth in Group AA for the second straight year in 2006.)