Bill Faulkner’s daughters wanted to play volleyball. That was the only connection the Cynthiana dentist had to the sport when he founded the program at Harrison County (Kentucky) High School in 2001.
Sixteen years and nearly 600 matches later, Faulkner is still on the sidelines and the Fillies have set a school record for wins this season with 34. Even more impressive? They’ve not dropped a match this year.
That’s not too shabby for a county school with a pool of about 400 girls from which to build a roster and a coach who learned the game on the fly.
“A couple ladies had been asked and one of them was getting ready to retire pretty soon and one was gonna move out of the district,” Faulkner said of being approached to coach the team in 2001. “So somebody says, ‘Why don’t you be the volleyball coach?’ And before you know it I’m the volleyball coach. I knew nothing about volleyball at all.”
High school athletics were not completely foreign to Faulkner, who originally practiced in Lexington and came to Cynthiana to work with a friend in 1981; he ended up buying that friend’s practice the same year. Faulkner assisted Harrison County’s football team for 18 years under Ray Graham and the school’s baseball team for three years under Mac Whitaker, including two state championship seasons on the diamond (he was quick to discredit himself for those victories).
“I know it’s really unusual,” Faulkner said. “I might be the only dentist in the country who’s a high school volleyball coach or maybe a coach at all.”
‘It’s been a fun ride’
Faulkner referenced Dale Grupe (Henry Clay’s longtime head coach) and Chris Langston (the same at Lafayette) as men on whom he leaned while he got his footing in the sport. Harrison County used to play in the same region as those teams before the KHSAA went to a 16-region format in 2003.
The Fillies are now in the 10th Region. They’ve never won a region title and aren’t considered the favorite despite their eye-popping record. Scott, the No. 21 team in the state whom the Fillies visit Thursday to close out the regular season, and Campbell County, whom they defeated in a best-of-three match on Sept. 20, are both ranked ahead of Harrison County in the regional poll of coaches.
Most skepticism about the Fillies’ title chances originates from their strength of schedule: Of their 23 unique opponents this season, only five had winning records heading into this week. Faulkner noted, though, that Harrison County has “played this same schedule and not done nearly, nearly as well.” He’s as impressed as anyone about what his girls have accomplished.
“It’s been a fun ride. This year’s been really crazy I have to admit,” Faulkner said. “I didn’t expect this by any means.”
‘My best bunch’
This year’s been incredible, but next year might be when the Fillies really break out. Harrison County will graduate just one senior, defensive specialist Shelbi Morris. Its top three kills leaders — Katie Stonich (194), Sydney Morris (172) and Kelsey Gifford (131) — are a sophomore and two juniors. Libero Emma Wallace, who has a team-high 341 digs, is a junior too.
Harrison County has a good offense, Faulkner said, but its defensive focus is what has separated it from other teams he’s coached.
“This may end up being my best bunch,” Faulkner said. “We don’t overpower people. I’ve had teams that really hit the ball hard and everybody could really hit it. This is just a hustling bunch.
“They get on the floor, they get balls ... defensively and ball-handling and shifting and digging the ball up, that’s this kind of team.”
Having spent so much time in the high school ranks as a paraprofessional has been a pleasure, but Faulkner can see the end of the road. One of his daughters, Olivia, practices dentistry in Union. The other, Brooke, is joining his practice part-time.
Faulkner anticipates leading the volleyball team for at least five or six more years, but is open to assisting whoever takes over the program he built from the ground up. He’d like to stay connected with the kids and the game.
“It just gets you away from what you’re doing for a while and you can think about something else. I like dentistry, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been a dentist for a long time,” Faulkner said. “But it’s also nice to get out on the floor and not have to think about the restoration I just put in No. 5 or the extraction on 32 or the implant on No. 7.”