Rifle High School senior Joey Kuheim | PostIndependent.com

Rifle High School senior Joey Kuheim

Michael McLaughlin
Special to the Post Independent

Darcy Copeland Snappedya.com
Staff Photo |

It’s hard to tell what kind of Rifle Bear Joey Kuheim is.

Is she an intimidating grizzly bear, possessing the size, strength and moxie that allows her at times to simply dominate athletically? Or is she the teddy bear her friends and coaches see every day with a smile that can disarm, and possibly confuse, those who see the grizzly in her?

The 5-foot-9, 195-pound chiseled senior is a mixture of both.

She’s a first-team, all-4A Western Slope League basketball player and has the top shot-put distance in all of Colorado. She’s a weight-room disciple with a work ethic the likes of which her coaches rarely witness.

She’s a leader by example who loves to compete in just about any arena of her life. Kuheim is not only driven to succeed in sports, she’s also worked hard scholastically, and has accepted an Ivy League scholarship to Columbia University in New York.

“She’s literally put hundreds of hours into working at making herself a better athlete and student,” Rifle track coach John Scrabeck said. “I don’t know of any other athletes, boys or girls, that have worked as consistently hard as Joey.”

School of Hardwood Knocks

Rick Schmitz, who was Rifle’s girls basketball coach this past season, has been at both ends of spectrum dealing with Kuheim on the hardwood. Schmitz coached at Coal Ridge from 2008-2012 and faced Kuheim for three years before taking over the Bears program this past season.

“She killed us every game,” Schmitz said. “We just couldn’t stop her — ever. You could see how strong she was on both ends of the court.”

Schmitz also learned how physically dominant she could be when he would step onto the practice floor and occasionally cover Kuheim. It didn’t take long for him to realize this girl was the strongest athlete he had ever coached.

Kuheim is quick to admit how much she enjoys the physical part of playing basketball and, as a senior, really learned to use her body and natural quickness to dominate her opponents.

“I love to hear that puff of air a defender would release when I backed into them,” she said with a wry smile. “When we played Steamboat this season, one of their girls called me fat, so I used my fat during the game to knock her around a little. It’s fun to be a physical presence.”

Schmitz also had to win over the seniors’ trust as a new head coach who changed many things the Rifle girls were used to doing. Kuheim admitted at first she was hesitant to go all-in with her new coach and his coaching philosophies.

But once Schmitz began working close with the post players, her attitude changed quickly.

“Most of my friends know how stubborn I can be,” Kuheim said. “Coach Schmitz pretty much tolerated me at first. He is an amazing post coach. We did more post work with him in one day than the previous three years combined. As a team and individually, we were so lucky to have him as a coach this season.”

Rifle ended up 17-8 overall, with Kuheim averaging 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds a game.

“Her work ethic was outstanding in every aspect,” Schmitz said. “She also wanted to get better every day. She was like a sponge absorbing everything we would teach her about playing the post position. On top of all that, she was a leader by example that wanted to get everybody involved on the court. Joey would lead the charge, and our kids would follow.”

Passion for the shot put

Make no mistake, Kuheim loved the team aspect of basketball and embraced her role as a leader. But in her mind, it’s when she steps into the throwing ring for either the shot put or discus that her countless hours of training translates best.

“Some of my friends think I’m crazy,” she said. “But I love working hard and don’t want to be mediocre in anything I do. I like track because it is more or less an individual sport, and you get out of it what you put into it.”

Chris Bomba is the throws coach for the Rifle track team, and has worked closely with Kuheim for four years. In his 11 years coaching at the high school and college levels, Bomba said he has never encountered such a unique blend of talent and work ethic.

This year, with Rifle moving up from the 3A classification to 4A, Kuheim is adding another weapon to her repertoire — mental toughness.

“There were times last year, including the state tournament, when Joey struggled mentally to stay consistent,” Bomba said. “You can already tell how much she’s matured from that and has already shown this season that she’s more than capable of keeping her concentration in the right places.”

Kuheim set personal-best marks of 43 feet, 1 inch in the shot put and 139 feet in the discus last Friday at the Montrose Invitational. She now has the top state mark in all classifications for the shot put according to http://www.dyestat.com, and her mark in the discus ranks fourth in Colorado. She also is listed as a National Elite in the shot, meaning her throw ranks in the top-100 nationally.

Her mark of 139 in the discus is the fourth-best throw in Colorado this spring, but the overwhelming state favorite is still Valarie Allman at Silver Creek, the top-ranked discus thrower in the nation with a mark of 183-3.

At the 2012 state track meet, Kuheim was favored to win the shot put but ended up taking second, as well as fourth in the discus.

“Last year at state I put way too much pressure on myself,” she said. “My goal at state this year is to have fun. I really want to enjoy my state experience because I haven’t allowed myself to do that yet. If I relax and do my best, good things will happen.”

Off to college

Just like with sports, Kuheim is a workaholic when it comes to her studies, earning a 3.9 GPA at Rifle. This past year, she’s heard from too many colleges to keep track and, despite already committing to Columbia, still receives weekly offers from schools hoping she might change her mind.

When it came time to narrow her college choices, she first visited Colorado State and had nothing but good things to say about their coaches and throwing program, but never felt it was the right fit for her.

Her second college visit was to Columbia, a school she was hesitant to check out because she wasn’t sure about a city with the size and reputation of New York. However, her immediate connection with the coaches made her take the trip, and she’s never looked back since.

“The Columbia campus is so beautiful,” she said. “It was really overwhelming. I always felt the coaches wanted me there more than any other school. By the time I left the campus, it was the only place I could picture myself attending.”

Her feelings were so strong that she cancelled her scheduled visit to the Naval Academy and told Columbia she was accepting their scholarship offer. Kuheim hasn’t had a single doubt since she made her commitment.

Next year, look for her to continue competing in the shot and discus, as well as the hammer and weight throw. Bomba sees nothing but good things in her future.

“With her combination of strength and explosiveness, she’s going to be a fantastic hammer thrower,” he said. “I can’t wait to see how she does at the next level.”

Lasting sense of community

Ask Kuheim where her work ethic comes from, and she’s quick to talk about the support she constantly receives in Rifle. In many ways, sports has been her engine, and the Rifle community her fuel.

“I have such a great support system in Rifle,” she said. “My friends, coaches and teachers have been amazing. I would have been a very different person without those people around me.”

Whether it’s a stranger coming up to her and saying how much they enjoyed watching her compete, or an eighth-grader telling her how much they want to be like her when they’re a senior, it all adds up to a community Kuheim says she will never forget to give credit to whenever she finds success in life.

“It’ll be so bittersweet to move on from Rifle next fall,” Kuheim said. “I’ll always value the bonds I’ve been so lucky to make here. I couldn’t dream of a better place to grow up — unless RIfle someday gets an indoor track facility. Seriously, I can’t stress how much I love this community.”

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