Following Sunday’s first round of the Mountain West women’s basketball tournament, Air Force had punched their ticket to the quarterfinals. A 60-48 win over Colorado State meant they earned a dance with the number two seed Boise State Broncos.
On Monday night, they fell to the Broncos 73-50.
As an Air Force fan, the excitement is palpable, and we certainly rode the excitement as far as it can go for this season.
Yet, objectively, we have to meter our expectations. The Air Force women sit at 10-21 in a tough conference with an SEC and Pac-12 game on the schedule. They lost games to Army and Navy, but managed to go 5-2 in the last five Mountain West games of the season.
An outsider would look at such a season and think it to be underwhelming, but the big picture tale of this year gives Air Force fans a lot to be excited about.
Leading the team in points is Junior Guard Kaelin Immel. She was named the 2017-18 Mountain West Freshman of the Year and her 16.0 points per game average in conference play set a school record. This season, she has recorded 473 points, breaking her previous record of 464 points in a single season.
Sophomore Forward Riley Snyder is another leading scorer for the Falcons. She holds the best three-point percentage on the team at .382 and has put up 441 points this season. She averages 14.2 points per game and if her trend continues, there is a lot more to come in the next few years.
Emily Conroe, a Junior Guard has made a name for herself defensively with 234 total rebounds, 157 on defense and 58 steals. She’s also a solid shooter, averaging 8.1 points per game.
This team has some well-rounded standout players, but what’s notable is how young the team is. There is only one Senior on the roster, so it’s really understandable that it took some time for the team to seemingly hit its stride. Looking forward, I maintain that the Air Force women will be exciting to watch in the coming years as they get more experience playing in such a difficult conference.
Trusting Coach Gobrecht’s Process
If there’s one way to characterize Coach Chris Gobrecht, it’s that she is a mercenary of building successful programs. She has a storied 39-year career and has coached at nearly every level of women’s basketball. She has coached high school, junior college, international basketball, and of course, Division I.
Starting in 1979, Chris Gobrecht started coaching at Cal State Fullerton and took a 7-23 team to a 19-11 record and fifth place in NWIT within six years. She went on to coach the University of Washington for 11 seasons, making the NCAA Tournament in nine of those seasons. She earned Pac-10 honors as coach of the year twice and her team reached a number three ranking in the country in 1990. Prior to Air Force, Coach Gobrecht coached at Yale and grew the program into a powerhouse of the Ivy League.
Since taking over at Air Force in 2016, the Falcons have been trending upwards. The team went 2-29 in 2015-16, and this is the first year the team has had double-digit wins in nine seasons.
Obviously, one of the greatest difficulties in building a program, or even turning a program around, comes in the form of recruiting. Convincing athletes to take their talents to a stagnant program is tough, but Chris Gobrecht has proven skillful in conveying the benefits of the Academy experience to prospective players. Working within the constraints of the high admission standards is also hard to do, balancing talent with players who have what it takes to make it through the rigorous academics and military training. Yet, Chris Gobrecht has plenty of experience recruiting in the Ivy League and has a unique perspective of the Air Force Academy as a mother to a son who graduated from USAFA.
I have complete faith that she has a talent for recruiting and the proof is showing as she continues to build the team.
It’s tough being a fan of a team that has a losing record for well over a decade. It even hurts saying that, but being honest about the situation is the only way to find a solution to get on a path to success. Coach Chris Gobrecht is clearly the person for the job.
For the time being, we can enjoy the success in the tail end of the season, but still hope and expect that the best is yet to come.