Metro Lynx dump highly successful McKersie

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Rob Reischel
Mike McKersie (right), shown here with daughter Cam, wasn't retained as the head coach of Middleton's co-op girls hockey team./Photo submitted

Mike McKersie led Middleton’s co-op girls hockey team to its most successful season ever last winter.

Middleton’s co-op, also known as the Madison Metro Lynx, reached the WIAA state championship game for the first time in school history. The Lynx tied for the Badger Conference championship, went 21-3 overall and won the prestigious Culver Cup.

What was McKersie’s reward for such a memorable year? A pink slip.

Kathryn Anderson, an assistant coach since 2014, was recently named the Lynx’s new head coach. McKersie, on the other hand, was left somewhat befuddled.

“I was surprised, but then again, not all that surprised,” said McKersie, who coached the Lynx the last two years. “After all the success we had, you’d think there would be a lot to celebrate and a lot to be happy about. 

“But this can be a nasty business. I’m not the first coach — and I won’t be the last — to have a great year and get fired.”

The Lynx — which consists of players from Middleton, Madison West, Madison Memorial, Madison Edgewood and Verona — has been entirely under Middleton’s supervision since its inception in 2010. Shortly after former MHS athletic director Bob Joers died in May, though, the Madison Metropolitan School District took over the coaching supervision of the Lynx.

Madison West athletic director Alicia Pelton quickly posted the job and led a three-person hiring committee. The position was posted three different times due to low interest, and in the end, only three people applied. 

Each candidate was given 10 video questions to answer, and the hiring committee eventually selected Anderson — an assistant under McKersie the last two years.

When asked why McKersie wasn’t retained, Pelton said: “All contracts are year to year. And Kathryn was the candidate that stood out most.”

Anderson is a former Lynx player who attended Madison Edgewood High School. She graduated from UW-La Crosse in 2017 and was the Lynx’s head JV coach last season.

“I’m extremely honored to return to this program for another great season,” Anderson said. “To have the opportunity to lead this program to more great milestones is exciting and I can’t ask for a better team to start the journey with.”

McKersie, a 1987 graduate of Madison West High School, thought his journey with the Lynx was just getting started.

McKersie was a player and assistant coach at UW-Eau Claire until 1993. In the years since, McKersie was an assistant coach for Verona and Middleton’s boys’ teams, he’s worked with the Madison Junior Capitols, and has 30 years of coaching experience.

McKersie’s first Lynx team in 2018-19 went 9-12-2 overall and lost in the sectional semifinals. This year’s team set school records for goals, assists and points on their way to a second place finish at state. 

“I wish Kathryn the best and hope she has a lot of success,” McKersie said. “But if we’re honest here, when you compare the two résumés, it’s not close.

“If Bob (Joers) was still here, I definitely think I’d still be the coach. He was very supportive. He took a lot of pride in having the Lynx in Middleton, and he was always there to talk if I had an issue with a parent or a player. But after Bob died, Alicia (Pelton) made a push to get the job over there and she went in a different direction.”

McKersie said he was never told why he was being replaced, but he believes there are two reasons. 

First, McKersie started his daughter, Camryn, in goal during the state championship game. That move was scrutinized by the fan base and caused many to turn on Mike McKersie.

Camryn McKersie, a sophomore who attends Middleton High School, went 10-2 with a 1.69 goals against average and a .924 save percentage last season. She was injured midway through the year, though, missed three weeks, and freshman Addy Armstrong of Madison Memorial emerged.

Armstrong went 8-1 with a 1.21 goals against average and a .944 save percentage.

“I felt we had two we really strong goalies,” Mike McKersie said.

McKersie played both goalies down the stretch and decided to flip-flop them in the postseason. 

Camryn McKersie made 22 saves in a 7-1 win over Black River Falls in the sectional semifinals. Armstrong had 33 saves in a 3-0 win over the Cap City Cougars in the sectional finals, then had 28 saves in a 5-2 win over the Rock County Fury in the state semifinals.

Camryn McKersie drew the start in the state championship game and allowed a pair of first period goals in what became a 5-3 loss to the Fox City Stars. One of those goals was a breakaway to state Player of the Year Madelynn Jablonski, while the other was deflected past McKersie.

With the Lynx down, 2-0, after the first period, Mike McKersie pulled his daughter and inserted Armstrong. For many, though, that move came one period too late.

“Some parents were upset that Camryn got the start in the state championship,” Mike McKersie said. “We talked a lot as a coaching staff and we felt we had two outstanding goalies that could help us accomplish everything we wanted.

“There’s always somebody not happy, but that went from one of the highest points of my career to being ostracized and cast off to the side. People were coming up to me after the state semifinals and thanking me for everything I had done and helping us get to the state finals. But a couple days later, those same people wouldn’t even look at me.” 

McKersie was also a no-nonsense coach who held players accountable, something that didn’t always sit well with certain parents. Multiple sources close to the program said one player McKersie had repeated issues with was sophomore Kaya Pelton-Byce, the daughter of West athletic director Alicia Pelton.

At one point last season, McKersie favored suspending Pelton-Byce for two games following a verbal attack of an opponent. Instead, athletic directors inside the co-op elected to give Pelton-Byce a warning.

Just months later, Mike McKersie’s fate was placed in Pelton’s hands — and soon he was out of a job.

“You can do the math on that one,” Mike McKersie said.

Pelton, though, insisted that Anderson was the best fit for the Lynx.

“MMSD went through an open hiring process as an equal opportunity employer, interviewed and evaluated all of the applicants,” Pelton said. “Kathryn Anderson was identified as the best candidate for the head coaching role.”

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