BY DAVE LINK
Kailey Keeble and Kayleigh Hames have been best friends since their early days of elementary school.
They’ve trained together for years on the volleyball court, played on the same club teams, and gone against each other in high school matches.
Their friendship will turn long distance late next summer when Keeble and Hames head their separate ways to play college volleyball.
Keeble, senior at Heritage High School, will be a setter for Tennessee, while Hames, a senior at Webb School of Knoxville, will be an outside hitter for Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif.
“It’s going to be a big change,” Keeble said. “I’m at her house every single day. We’re always talking, (and then) going from seeing her every single day to seeing her maybe on the holidays, it’s just going to be really weird. I’m glad there’s Facetime now in our generation.”
So is Hames.
“It’s going to be really hard because I’m used to seeing her every day,” Hames said. “I’m going to have to Facetime her a lot, but hopefully it will be OK.”
Hames and Keeble have played club volleyball together since they were 7 years old, and they have one more season playing on the same team, K2 Volleyball’s “18 Elite Joda,” which has just started training for the 2019 season running Jan. 5-May 27.
They share the inaugural 5Star Preps Volleyball Player of the Year award as co-players.
“She’s pretty much my sister,” Hames said of Keeble. “I love her so much and just respect her as a player, and so sharing this award with her means the most for me because I wouldn’t really want to share it with anybody else. We’ve been best friends ever since I can remember.”
Both capped off their high school careers in big fashion this year.
Hames, whose sister Nicklin is a freshman starting setter at national power Nebraska, led the Lady Spartans to their sixth consecutive Division II-A state championship, while Keeble led Heritage to its first-ever state volleyball appearance.
Both are on PrepVolleyball.com’s list of top 100 players in the nation and are among the top-rated college signees in the state. They are multi-time all-state players and share national honors.
Keeble and senior Ashelyn Vandergriff were setters in the 6-2 rotation for Heritage, which reached the 2017 state sectionals – one victory short of state.
“Since we made it so close last year and lost a heartbreaker at sub-state, everybody was more prepared and driven to get back and just finally get over the hump and get to state,” Keeble said. “I think with everybody having that same mindset it really helped us get there for sure.”
While Keeble was the standout at Heritage all four years, Hames was put in a new role at Webb this year when she took over as leader and feature player with the departure of sister Nicklin.
Hames had ample help winning state again. Sophomore Haley Jenkins took over as setter for Nicklin Hames, and junior Leoni Kunz was a force at hitter with Kayleigh Hames.
Hames said it was a team effort in more ways than one.
“We got along really well and that’s really awesome for a team just in general because it’s kind of hard if you don’t like each other on the court,” Hames said, “but we had chemistry on and off the court and that was the neat thing about this team.
Hames and Keeble were both coached by their parents during club and high school volleyball.
Hames’ mom, Chris Hames, is founder and co-director of K2 Volleyball in Louisville, Tenn., while Jason Hames, Kayleigh’s dad and Chris’ wife, is co-director of K2 Volleyball and serves as college recruiting coordinator while training elite players.
Chris Hames has been Webb’s coach since 2012. Her impact on Kayleigh’s career has been immense.
“My overall experience was really good,” Kayleigh said of being coached by her mom. “I love her so much and I just respect her as a coach as well as my mom. We have our ups and downs, and she kind of expects a lot from me just because she is my mom, but it was really good and I loved being coached by her.”
Keeble’s father, Jason, finished his third year as Heritage’s head coach after serving as assistant to Lisa Collins the previous four seasons. Jason also coaches 12-unders at K2 Volleyball, where his wife, Deidre, works fulltime as youth director and office manager.
Although her parents were always heavily involved with volleyball – Deidre was a top-level player at Gibbs – Kailey didn’t feel forced to play the sport.
“My dad always thought I was going to grow up and play softball,” Kailey said. “They never really pushed me to do one or the other. They just let it be my choice and I just grew up with a love for volleyball.”
Keeble and Hames are eager to begin the college chapters of their volleyball careers, albeit on separate sides of the country.
Hames said the Pepperdine campus escaped damage from the recent wildfires near Malibu, but her official visit was cancelled due to the fires.
She’s ready to embrace the California lifestyle along with college studies and volleyball.
“I’m going with an open mind,” Hames said. “I’m real excited and I just want to learn about the area. It’s pretty much like a different country for me, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it.”
Keeble won’t face such a drastic change, making the short move to Knoxville. Both of her parents attended Tennessee, and she’s familiar with her future teammates on the Lady Vols’ roster.
“I’m excited. It’s coming up really fast,” Keeble said. “I’m just eager to get there and get going with the volleyball program and school and everything.”