Kaelin Immel’s brief outburst was unlike anything she remembers having done on a basketball court.
The Air Force freshman drew a foul during a frustrating 75-54 season-opening loss to Denver at Clune Arena on Friday and pushed her way out of a scrum before her teammates briefly held her back.
“I was just so fed up with what was happening and the girl fell on top of me and I was just done, like, 'Get off of me,'” Immel said.
“That actually kind of helped me. I was really dragging before that. After that happened, I was pretty fired up and had a second wind. Maybe I should do that more often.”
For a program that has experienced game after game like this throughout its history, perhaps it was time to find a freshman who instinctively knows when enough is enough.
If so, things could get interesting, because it’s clear that Immel and her freshman teammates will have a chance to forge the personality of this team. Immel started and played 26 minutes in her college debut as a direct-enter freshman. She scored a team-high nine points and added two assists. Fellow freshman Sophie Bynum also started and scored six points in 21 minutes.
The Falcons played five freshman who logged 90 minutes with 25 points.
This wasn’t the plan for the program, but Sarah Pierce – who was on track to be the key to offense last year before a knee injury – has seen the start of her sophomore season slowed as she recovers. She played 14 minutes on Friday, scoring seven points.
And just two days before the opener the team learned it would be without leading post presence Kassady Huffman, an Air Academy graduate. In a statement, the academy said: “As part of an on-going investigation into her conduct, C3C Kassady Huffman will not be in uniform until further notice.”
Without Huffman in the middle, Denver outscored Air Force 46-10 in the paint and built a 52-35 rebounding margin.
The Falcons overcame this for a half, trailing just 19-18 at the break. But the Pioneers blew the lid off in the second half.
“It was a real eye-opener for all our freshmen,” coach Chris Gobrecht said. “It was like, ‘You guys ain’t in high school anymore. You’re not just going to turn around and get a rebound because you’re bigger than everybody else.’”
Gobrecht bemoaned the defensive effort and was unhappy with 12 missed free throws in 34 attempts.
“Some of these freshmen have to grow up fast,” said Gobrecht, who is beginning her third season with the Falcons. “It’s tough enough being a freshmen. I think it’s even harder with so few upperclassmen to show the way.”
But Immel, whose father Dave averaged 13.3 points per game as a senior at UCLA in 1987-88, showed that in addition to an uptick in skills, there might be a saltiness to this new group.
“Right now we’re kind of at the beginning of the learning process,” Immel said. “We’ve only had one month together to practice and work together.
“This is our first game. The only way it can go is up.”