The evolution of Bil Caillier | Kentwood Volleyball

He started out as “just one of the girls.” Now, a little more than seven years, one memorable ejection, a job firing and three children later, Bil Caillier has morphed into one of the premier high school volleyball coaches not only in the area, but in the entire state. No longer is the Kentwood coach the quiet one in the classroom of legendary Auburn High volleyball coach Nancy Zehnder.

He started out as “just one of the girls.”

Now, a little more than seven years, one memorable ejection, a job firing and three children later, Bil Caillier has morphed into one of the premier high school volleyball coaches not only in the area, but in the entire state.

No longer is the Kentwood coach the quiet one in the classroom of legendary Auburn High volleyball coach Nancy Zehnder.

Quite the contrary.

In less than a decade, Caillier has gone from the kid whose words practically had to be pulled from his mouth to a seasoned volleyball coach with a Jerry Seinfeld-type dry wit and an unmatched ability to crunch statistics.

In essence, the pupil has become one of the masters at his female-dominated profession, taking over a solid Kentwood program in 2002 and leading the Conquerors to new levels of success.

“He’s an extremely passionate coach who can’t get enough volleyball,” said Alison Fairchild, a former Kentwood star who now is a redshirt freshman at Western Washington University.

And it all started in a small Auburn classroom in 1988, when Caillier enrolled in Zehnder’s Advanced Volleyball class.

“Zehnder tells me I am just one of the girls,” deadpans the 38-year-old Caillier, a 1989 Auburn graduate. “I’m not sure just what that means.”

Maybe what it meant was – at least in this case – Caillier had no choice but to be one of the girls. At the high school level, volleyball isn’t an athletic choice for boys. And the game wasn’t Caillier’s first choice.

“I got cut from all the other sports,” Caillier said. “I got cut from baseball in ninth grade, tried out for football, played for two years and quit that. Then I went out for swimming and after a week of cramps, I was like, ‘This sucks.’”

Instead of turning to wrestling, track or any other sports offered to boys, Caillier chose volleyball, a pursuit that quickly quenched his athletic thirst.

Turned out to be a pursuit in which few of his peers have been able to match his success.

Since taking over the Kentwood program seven seasons ago, Caillier has recorded a 65-5 mark in South Puget Sound League North Division play and is 184-55 overall heading into play this weekend. That run of dominance includes four straight league titles and a 51-match win streak against North Division opponents.

In addition, Kentwood has been to the state tournament all but one year (2003) since Caillier came aboard. The Conquerors earned their fifth consecutive trip to state two weeks ago and opened play at the Toyota Center in Kennewick on Friday.

No doubt, Caillier will have to be at the top of his coaching game in Kennewick, particularly for a team coming off a stunning four-game loss to Puyallup in last weekend’s West Central District tourney. It was the first time in more than two years Kentwood has fallen to an SPSL opponent.

“I’ve always felt that coaches and players learn more about themselves when they lose than when they win,” Caillier said. “Winning is easy to deal with.”

Rough beginnings

All of Caillier’s success has not been without some bumps and bruises.

Before taking over at Kentwood, Caillier spent two years coaching Auburn’s freshman team. Giving the position to a male coach wasn’t easy, Zehnder admits.

“I hadn’t had a male coach in my program since 1976,” said Zehnder, who is now retired and is in the state’s Coaching Hall of Fame. “He was so quiet it was pathetic.”

But the Trojans were two days into tryouts and in desperate need of a coach. The quiet kid who seldom made a peep in class wanted the opportunity, so the longtime coaching veteran threw the youngster a bone.

And that once-quiet kid suddenly turned into a fired-up motor-mouth.

“The kid I couldn’t get to talk in high school wouldn’t shut up,” Zehnder said with a laugh. “We’re playing this match at the state tournament and, all of a sudden, the ref flashes a red card. I said, ‘Me?’ The official turned and said, ‘No, the guy to your right.’ And there’s Bil.”

Two years later, when longtime Kentwood coach and current school athletic director Jo Anne Daughtry chose to step down, Caillier once again threw his name into the hat.

But once again, there was a reservation. Though Caillier had a couple years of coaching experience under his belt, he was not a teacher, but instead worked at a local grocery store.

Having Zehnder’s backing made all the difference in the world, Daughtry admitted.

“Bil was fairly young and had been Nancy’s assistant coach at Auburn,” Daughtry said. “Our coaching styles were the same, so I felt pretty comfortable. I’m not going to hire an in-building person just to hire an in-building person.”

Given the boot

Roughly 20 matches into his first season at Kentwood, however, Caillier made an indelible mark.

But not with winning.

Instead, the first-year varsity coach was booted from a match against Decatur during the SPSL tournament in the Kentwood gym. Not only that, Caillier was scheduled to work that day and, in choosing to coach the Conquerors rather than take his shift was fired from his grocery store job.

The ejection remains fresh in his mind.

“We were specifically working on a new skill of setting the ball near the net,” said Caillier, who got his job back later that week and since then has dabbled in financial planning, as well. “He called a ballhandling error. I got upset and he did it again. (The official) gave me a yellow card, then I stepped closer to the court and that’s when I got ejected.”

The new coach, who had earned the job on Zehnder’s recommendation, had just been shown his walking papers, not a common scene on today’s prep volleyball courts.

“In 30 years, I have never been kicked out of a single match,” Zehnder said.

Daughtry likewise was floored.

“It did (stress me out),” Daughtry said. “Definitely that thought of, ‘What is he doing, what is he thinking?’ crossed my mind. I came within seconds of coming down (to the court) and saying, ‘Sit down, Bil.’”

Back on task

But ask anyone near the Kentwood program these days about Caillier’s competitive nature, and the first response you’ll get is, “He’s matured.”

Part of that maturation process comes from children, both on and off the court. Since taking over at Kentwood, Caillier’s wife and high school sweetheart, Michelle, has given birth to three children – Emma (5), Wil (4) and Ben (3).

Go to any match during the season and it’s not uncommon to see one of the young Cailliers spring out of the bleachers, run down to the court and give their dad a hug or kiss – even if it’s in the middle of match point.

And while Caillier has become a master at his profession, he also has developed – with considerable help from Michelle – into the ultimate multi-tasker. In addition to his on-court responsibilities, the couple also runs a daycare out of their three-bedroom Auburn home during the mornings, and The Busy Bee preschool from the home of Michelle’s parents during the afternoon.

If that doesn’t cause a parent’s head to spin, both are also working toward their masters degree in organizational management.

As for the coach who once was ejected, it’s just a memory.

“He has really evolved as a coach,” Michelle said. “That’s not one of his favorite moments. Now, he’s typically pretty calm and only gets upset if he thinks it will help his kids.”

A hamster?

These days, when the pressure of being one of the state’s premier teams sets in with his players, Caillier often relies on his sense of his humor to cut through it all.

“We always joke as a team that if people walk by and notice him, they’ll think he’s the weirdest guy ever because he does funny things at practice,” said Jesse Genger, a three-year starter. “He knows when to joke and when to be serious.”

Seriousness aside, Caillier has become famous at the school for his standup routine — particularly during timeouts.

Former KW star Fairchild, who has spent time as one of Caillier’s players and as an assistant coach, has seen both sides – passionate one moment, humorous the next.

“My junior year at state (2006) we were playing Rogers and we were down 2-0,” Fairchild recalled. “During the timeout in the third set, Caillier whipped out a (mechanical) singing hamster, made us listen to it for the full length of the timeout and then got us back on the court with only a second to spare.”

Kentwood went on to win the final three sets and take fourth place at state.

For Caillier, it was all just part of coaching.

And, of course, part of being just one of the girls.




• WHEN: Friday and today.

• WHERE: Toyota Center, Kennewick.

• WHAT: The top 16 teams in the state.


• FAVORITES: Lewis & Clark, Mead.

• CONTENDERS: Kentwood, Kamiakin.

• NOTABLE: Mead has won four-straight titles, knocking off Lewis & Clark for the last two crowns. The two powerhouses could meet again in the finals as they’re on separate sides of the bracket. Kentwood, making its fifth straight trip to state and ranked second much of the year, is coming off a stunning four-game match loss to Puyallup at the district tournament. Kentwood, which took third last year, has the firepower to hang with Mead and Lewis & Clark. The Conquerors will have to play near flawless volleyball — and likely have to get through Lewis & Clark in the second round — to advance to the finals.


• WHEN: Thursday and Friday.

• WHERE: Toyota Center, Kennewick.

• WHAT: The top 16 teams in the state.

• LOCAL TEAMS IN ACTION: Auburn Mountainview.

• FAVORITES: Sumner, Shorecrest, Auburn Mountainview, Kennedy.

• NOTABLE: Hanford upended Auburn Riverside for last year’s title. Neither team qualified this year. In light of that, it’s a pretty wide-open field. Auburn Mountainview entered the season top ranked, struggled with injuries part of the year and was subsequently bumped from the top 10. The Lions made a strong return last weekend, knocking off previously unbeaten Sumner for the district title along with heavyweights Kennedy and Union (Vancouver).