Santa Ana Mater Dei’s Kevin Kiernan notches the 762nd win of his girls basketball coaching career Wednesday night at tourney opener in San Diego, which sets new state record. By luck, we happened to have someone there who could provide details about the historical milestone. We also have updated our exclusive all-time state coaching record list through Wednesday’s games to show Kiernan now in the top position and with some other current girls hoops coaching legends who also are moving up the charts.
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Kevin Kiernan insists he’s just renting space when it comes to being the winningest girls basketball coach in California state history.
But following Mater Dei’s 69-32 victory Wednesday over Serra of Gardena in a Premier Division pool-play game at the 16th annual So Cal Holiday Prep Classic at Del Norte High in San Diego, Kiernan became the sole owner of that record, breaking a tie with legendary Buena of Ventura coach Joe Vaughan.
Kiernan, 59, improved to 762-97 in his 28th season as girls basketball coach, which included previous stints at La Quinta of Westminster and Troy of Fullerton, surpassing the 761 victories accumulated by Vaughan during his 31 seasons at Buena before retiring in 2007.
“It’s an honor. I’ve been really fortunate to work with some great schools in La Quinta and Troy and Mater Dei where they’re so supportive,” said Kiernan, who has also coached the Cypress College women’s program along with the Troy and Savanna of Anaheim boys teams during the past 35 years.
“I’ve never had a bad job or a bad day and I consider myself a lucky guy. It means a lot to do it with this group. It’s very special.”
Kiernan had an opportunity to break the record Saturday in Arizona in the Joe Smith Division final at the 22nd Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, but Redondo Union of Redondo Beach temporarily stood in the way of history with a 43-40 victory over the Monarchs.
Mater Dei (15-2), No. 8 in the latest Cal-Hi Sports state rankings, scored 10 of the first 11 points Wednesday and never trailed against Serra (4-4), the reigning Division I state champions. Brooke Demetre had 17 points and 12 rebounds, with Katie Fitzgerald adding 16 points for the Monarchs, who made 11 3-pointers.
“Serra has a very proud tradition and they’re defending state champs, so it’s nice to beat a good team to get that (record-breaking) win,” Kiernan said. “It’s a great accomplishment. I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve worked hard. I’ve had great players and great assistant coaches and they make it fun. If it’s not fun, there is no way you last this long.
“I have great support at home. All of my (four) kids play and my wife (Christine) is a Division 2 head coach at Concordia, so we’re a basketball family. I can’t come home and quit because they wouldn’t let me. We’ve still got a long ways to go. I hope I’ve got another 20 years doing this.”
Camryn Kiernan, a junior, is the second of Kevin and Christine’s four children. Although she wasn’t aware of the milestone until her father got closer to Vaughan’s record, the 5-foot-10 guard was grateful she could be part of such a memorable experience.
“I’m really proud of him. It means a lot because I get to play for my dad and hopefully my sisters will be able to as well,” Camryn said. “This is awesome, being able to be a part of all of this. I’ve loved playing for him for the last three years and I’ve just loved every moment of it.”
Kiernan also elevated to No. 36 in all-time wins among prep girls basketball coaches across the country, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations Record Book, including 15th on the active list. It’s much more difficult, however, to double-check coaches on the national list.
“Kevin is not only a legend to the state of California, he represents women’s basketball in the best way across the country. He has an incredible heart, is a great man and has been a fantastic mentor for me and my young coaching career,” said Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth coach Alicia Komaki, who played for Kiernan at Troy and later became an associate head coach on his staff at both her alma mater and Mater Dei.
“I’m honored to have learned from him, but happier to consider him a friend. I’m so proud to come from his coaching pedigree.”
Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood’s Melissa Hearlihy, who ranks third all-time in the state behind Kiernan and Vaughan with 724 career victories, is the only other active girls basketball coach in California with more than 700 wins.
“What an incredible accomplishment for Kevin,” Hearlihy said. “The years of dedication it has taken to achieve this milestone is one to be truly admired and appreciated.”
Kiernan has captured a combined nine CIF Southern Section championships at La Quinta, Troy and Mater Dei, in addition to winning three state titles at each school.
His six state championships, the most recent in 2012, tie Kiernan with Archbishop Mitty of San Jose’s Sue Phillips, Pinewood of Los Altos Hills’ Doc Scheppler and Long Beach Poly’s Carl Buggs for the second-highest total among active girls basketball coaches, trailing only the seven titles won by Tom Gonsalves at St. Mary’s of Stockton.
“Getting kids to buy into the system and to have them apply it and then having that lead toward success is a definite testimony to what he’s meant to girls basketball,” Buggs said. “When you’re talking about Joe Vaughan, that’s a legend. So even to be mentioned in that same class means success and consistency. That’s hall of fame stuff right there. It’s awesome for him and it’s awesome for Mater Dei. Nothing but respect for the man.”
Kiernan still carries the same respect today that he did for Vaughan when Troy defeated Buena 58-51 in the 2001 CIF-SS Division 1-A final at The Pyramid in Long Beach for his first section championship.
“He’s a legend and there’s so many great coaches in California right now, so I’m just renting space for a while,” Kiernan said. “I’m sure somebody is going to pass me by.”
But for the time being, the Monarchs can celebrate having both of the winningest coaches in high school basketball in California, with Mater Dei boys coach Gary McKnight ranking No. 5 all-time nationally with 1,119 victories after Wednesday’s 98-61 win over Knight of Palmdale at the Rancho Mirage Holiday Invitational.
As for pursuing McKnight’s lofty total?
“I’ll never pass Gary,” Kiernan joked. “He won’t let me.”
Erik Boal has covered high school sports in California for 25 years, formerly serving as editor at the Glendale News-Press and Los Angeles Daily News. He is currently the editor for DyeStat.com and RunnerSpace.com, which focus on track and field, cross country and road racing, but has been a regular attendee at the So Cal Holiday Prep Classic since it began in 2003.
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He also is author of “High School Football In California,” which was No. 1 on Amazon.com’s list of bestsellers in the teen/young adult football category for several weeks after it was released. He can be reached at email@example.com. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports