Cardinal Gibbons High School (Raleigh, N.C.) girls coach Jim Freeman had a feeling about Katie Camp and Katie Kabbes.
So much so that he purposely issued uniform No. 3 to Camp and No. 4 to Kabbes when they were freshmen.
“I knew they would be special when they got here,” said Freeman, who completed his 17th year as coach in 2007. “I numbered them so they would fit in with the rest of the retired jerseys. Those two numbers were the last of the single-digit jerseys we had. It’s kind of like the New York Yankees and they are kind of like Babe Ruth and Lou Gerhig. It was so obvious they would be the two best players we have ever had.”
Camp and Kabbes most certainly didn’t let their coach’s lofty prognostication go to waste. The duo helped Cardinal Gibbons to a 119-13 record and three straight state championships. As freshmen, Cardinal Gibbons lost in the state championship match in five games.
But this remarkable run has an added twist to it—a statistical anomaly, if you will.
What are the odds of two girls—best friends no less—both standing 6’5”, attending the same high school, playing on the same club and both earning major Division I scholarships?
“People think we recruit,” said Freeman. “You couldn’t recruit people like that even if you tried. It doesn’t happen. They aren’t around. They are one of a kind. Your whole career as a coach you might get one kid like that. What are the odds of getting two kids from the same Catholic junior high school?”
Wait. There’s more.
“There’s the physical thing with us both being so tall,” said Kabbes, who will play for defending national champion Penn State this coming fall. “We both have the same name. We were born within two weeks of each other. We were both (from) Indiana (Kabbes was born there; Camp moved there at age 2).”
Camp, headed to UCLA, moved to the Raleigh area in fifth grade. And across the hallway one day at Our Lady of Lourdes School was another girl who stood the same 5’9” height (yes, 5’9” in fifth grade) as she did.
“Somebody said to her, ‘Hey Katie there’s another girl as tall as you named Katie,’” remembered Camp. “She saw me and came up to me at the lockers and said, ‘I’m Katie, too.’”
And over the years a close friendship developed.
“When we were younger we had the same personalities,” said Camp. “We thought the same things were funny and we thought the same way. As we have gotten older, we still have that, but we have the same goals. It’s easy for us to relate to each other. I don’t have a sister. She’s my sister. She has two sisters and says I’m her third sister. We get each other.”
Kabbes echoes those sentiments.
“We’ve developed a sisterhood,” said Kabbes. “She’s my best friend. We’re always there for each other. We both think alike. Our humor is similar. It’s unique to have such a great friend like her.”
“They almost complete each other’s sentences,” said Triangle club director Casey Caram, who works in alumni relations at Cardinal Gibbons and also coaches both Katies on the Triangle 18 Black squad. “They know each other that well.”
The duo has also forged a rather special identity on the court. This past season Camp and Kabbes combined to slam home over 900 kills in leading Gibbons to another state crown.
Camp, a middle blocker, hit a staggering .628, while Kabbes, an outside hitter at Gibbons, hit at a .453 clip. Kabbes leaves as the school-record holder in career kills (1,500) and aces (221), while Camp, who missed her junior season with an ACL injury, is the school’s career leader in hitting percentage (.528). Both were 2007 Mizuno/Volleyball Girls High School All-American selections.
“Except for Megan Hodge (2007 NCAA championship most outstanding player for Penn State), they are the two best players I’ve seen in North Carolina in the last 20 years,” said Freeman.
Freeman is impressed with Camp’s quickness at 6’5”, but said one glaring characteristic sticks out about her.
“She’s not intimidated,” said Freeman. “When the level of play rises and she gets pushed, she pushes back. The best I’ve seen her play is when all (heck) breaks loose out there. She’s a big-game player.”
“Katie is the consummate go-to player,” said Caram. “She wants the ball and will take care of the ball.”
Camp was originally a tennis player (Kabbes a basketball player) and said her indoctrination into sports at an early age helped fuel the fire she shows on the court. “Playing sports all my life gave me a great competitiveness for the game,” said Camp, whose Triangle team also includes another tall Katie—6’6” sophomore Katie Slay (Wakefield High School). “The one thing that has pushed me farther than anything else is that competitiveness.”
Kabbes, the Gatorade state player of the year in each of the last two seasons, has that same competitive streak.
“Katie Kabbes is very competitive and prideful,” said Freeman. “She’s a miracle talent. She a really fluid player—very smooth. She picks things up fast. There’s nothing she can’t do on the court.”
“Kabbes has a remarkable grace about her,” said Caram. “She was a dancer when she was younger. She moves so fluidly. For someone 6’5” to pass and play defense like she does is rare.”
Kabbes had two older sisters go on to play at the collegiate level. Being around elite talent for so many years lit the fuse at a young age for Kabbes.
“I saw a lot as a child and I’ve seen a lot of great players like Megan Hodge,” said Kabbes, who will join forces with Hodge this fall at Penn State. “I’ve been exposed to great players. I wanted to be among them. I wanted to be the best I could be. I didn’t want to be called a freshman. I wanted to be called an impact player in my own way.”
With two-high profile players on the same team, the natural question of sharing the spotlight pops up. With the two Katies, it’s a non-issue.
“There’s no jealousy,” said Kabbes. “We see it has healthy competition. As best friends, there isn’t going to be anybody getting upset or jealous. It’s been helpful to have her push me in the gym and hopefully I did the same for her.”
“Sometimes it comes her way and sometimes it comes my way,” said Camp.
“There’s no resentment or anything. I’m genuinely happy when she gets an award. We both understand each other. We both know awards and honors only mean so much.”
Both Camp and Kabbes were heavily recruited by colleges—a process that was actually made easier by their close friendship.
“It was really helpful to have her with me,” said Camp. “As freshmen in high school, we had to start thinking about college. It would have been hard to go through something like that alone. She was there to bounce things off of. It was (tough). We just got to high school and now we’re thinking about college.”
“None of our other friends knew what we were going through,” said Kabbes. “It was nice to have someone like Katie to talk to about it. It was a huge decision to make. There was a lot of pressure.”
And at the end of the summer the two will prepare to go their separate ways. “We never thought we would go to the same college,” said Kabbes. “In eighth grade we thought it would be fun. But we decided what each of us wanted.”
“We had some schools that overlapped in recruiting,” said Camp. “But the schools we are going to are the right ones. We both felt comfortable at different places. We have to go where we feel comfortable and where we feel we can succeed the best. That’s what it came down to.”
But the upcoming separation has obvious additional meaning.
“It’s going to be weird,” said Kabbes. “I don’t think we go more than a day without seeing each other. Being away from her is going to take a lot of getting used to. We’ll stay close.”
As luck would have it, the blow will be softened in late August when UCLA and Penn State play in a tournament in Hawaii.
“It’s going to be extremely hard,” said Camp. “We live 10 minutes from each other. We talk about it and then we have to stop. I feel like I’m losing my sister. But I’ll never lose her. At the end of the day, no matter where we are, we will still be best friends. The bond will never break.”