Athlete of the Week: Kuehnel rising to potential

An exaggerated generalization, perhaps, but when the Sage Hill School track and field team competes, its guiding principal is basically leaving everything to Chance.

Chance Kuehnel, that is.

The versatile and talented senior already has one school record and is aiming for a couple more as he fuels aspirations for an eventual dalliance with the decathlon.

Kuehnel cleared a personal-best 6 feet, 8 inches to win the high jump at the Irvine Invitational on March 11. The mark is tied with two others for second-best in the state this season and about an index finger length away from the school record set by CJ McCord (6-10 ¼), a one-time CIF state runner-up who is now competing at Yale.

Kuehnel also won the 110-meter high hurdles in 15.78 seconds at the Irvine Invitational and his personal best in that event (15.27 last spring) is No. 1 in Lightning annals.

Kuehnel also competes in the long jump (around 21 feet, he said), the 300 intermediate hurdles, and handles a leg on Sage's 400 relay. In addition, he is a team captain, a role he believes is as integral to team success as any of his events.

"My goals this year are to PR in all of my events and to definitely break at least one more school record," said Kuehnel, who also played basketball for the Lightning. "But, being a captain, I want to make sure all the guys on the team have a good time. I want to make it fun for them."

A free spirit who gains musical inspiration from the Kenny Loggins' mid-1980s hit "Danger Zone," Kuehnel is known as much for his vibrant smile as his big-time hops, to which he respectively credits to his mom, Erika Keuhnel, and his father, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman.

"He's definitely a unique individual," Sage Coach Darrien Burwell said of her most prolific point producer. "He has a great spirit and he's very positive."

When he is not keeping teammates, and even rivals loose, Kuehnel is locked in on the wide-ranging variables of his technical events. He works with separate private coaches for high jump and hurdles and, heeding Burwell's suggestion, he is interested in training for the decathlon in the near future.

"When I came to Sage three years ago, I told Chance I wanted him to be a decathlete," Burwell said.

"At that time, he was still new to track and he is still building confidence in the sport after having played basketball his whole life. I still think his talent is untapped and I think he has a lot of potential as a decathlete."

College coaches apparently agree. Burwell said much of the focus of his recruitment involves the 10-event pursuit for which the reigning Olympic champion is commonly labeled the world's greatest athlete.

"The decathlon interests me, even though it seems like a lot of work," Kuehnel said. "I haven't done any decathlons yet, but hurdles and jumping translate really well to the other [decathlon] events, I'm told."

Kuehnel finished fourth in CIF Southern Section Division 4 high jump final last season and his 6-5 clearance earned him a spot in the Masters Meet. He was the Academy League champion in the high hurdles as a junior.

It was his breakthrough PR in the high jump at Irvine, however, that has him thinking about a more successful postseason run in that event next month.

"That really boosted my confidence," Kuehnel said of his 6-8 clearance, which was a big surprise, particularly considering the conditions.

"It had been raining the entire day and the entire track was wet and damp," Kuehnel said. "I didn't have my [take-off] mark completely down, so I just went out eight steps and winged it. I kept thinking the bar was low and I was jumping lower than I normally do. But I guess it helped me to stop thinking about all the technical steps that can mess you up and just relax and let my training and muscle memory take over."

Chance Kuehnel

Born: Oct. 8, 1997

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 6-foot-3

Weight: 185

Sport: Track & field

Year: Senior

Coach: Darrien Burwell

Favorite food: Steak and eggs

Favorite movie: "The Jungle Book"

Favorite athletic moment: "The first time I dunked in a summer league basketball game playing for Sage Hill. I stole the ball, took two steps and dunked with two hands. It was crazy."

Week in review: He won the high jump and 110-meter high hurdles at the Irvine Invitational at Irvine High.

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