Riley Snyder represents new possibilities for Air Force women’s basketball.
She’s 6-feet tall. She was a three-star recruit. She can score on the outside, as evidenced by her four 3-pointers in a victory over Colorado State. She can score inside, as she did for 18 of her game-high 22 points in an overtime win over Nevada. She can handle the ball, defend, pass and is hitting 80 percent of her free throws in conference play.
And she’s still a freshman.
“She’s got such a total package,” coach Chris Gobrecht gushed.
The likes of Snyder, a volleyball and basketball star at Fruita Monument on the state’s western slope, haven’t often suited up for the Falcons. All of the team’s top scorers in recent years stood shorter than 6-0 – a long list that includes current sophomores Kaelin Immel and Emily Conroe and recent players like Jimi Blagowsky, Cortney Porter and Mariah Forde. Historically, only Alecia Steele matched Snyder’s height among Falcons who have averaged double figures over their career since Air Force moved up to Division I.
This is a program that has long been forced to compete against teams with greater assets. But in Snyder, they have an asset others covet.
Snyder, whose final three options included Dartmouth and Wyoming, gets that her decision to play for the Falcons went against the grain.
“I do understand that,” said Snyder, who is averaging 13 points in conference play. “It’s just the military part that most people don’t want to do. I wanted to be a part of building a program and I knew I would have the opportunity of that. Seeing the direction they were going with Kaelin and Emily and all the good recruits they got last year, I felt like we were just going to keep building.
“And Coach G just has so much wisdom and knowledge. It’s a blessing every day I get to practice and play under her. She’s been doing this a long time and she’s really good at it. I think Air Force is lucky to have her.”
Gobrecht said the key to bringing in better players to a program that has improved its winning percentage in each of her four seasons has been targeting “young women who understand that they don’t totally define themselves as basketball players.”
She included Immel and Conroe in that description, as well as freshmen starters Briana Autrey and Haley Jones.
Not that recruiting Snyder was easy after a prep career that included 1,500 points in basketball, 1,000 kills in volleyball and four years of a 4.0+ GPA to with it.
“Oh gosh, that was a good two-year project,” Gobrecht said. “I think the total package of what the academy represented was just very attractive to her. She’s a very level-headed young woman, and she knows there’s more to life than just basketball.”
When it comes to basketball, Snyder acknowledges that her abilities allow for flexibility. Faced with a shorter defender, she’ll post up. Faced with someone larger, she’s drive around them. It’s a varied skill set she credits her high school coach Michael Wells and club coaches for insisting she develop even when a growth spurt shot her up to 6-foot prior to her freshman year of high school.
“When you’re young and you’re tall, they just want to shove you in the post,” Snyder said. “But I had really great coaches that made me get out there and handle the ball and work on my shot and stuff like that. So that really helped my game.”
Her game is now helping Air Force in ways beyond her contributions. With Snyder adding another consistent scorer, for example, Immel has been able to settle into a role more comfortable to her than being the high-volume shooter she was last year when she averaged 15 points en route to Mountain West Freshman of the Year honors. Immel is still leading the team with 11.6 ppg, but she has upped her shooting percentage and rebounding while cutting down her turnovers.
“Her overall game is definitely better than a year ago, even though she might not be scoring quite as much,” Gobrecht said. “I think the poor kid thought she had to shoot it almost every time last year. And we kind of agreed.”
No more. With Snyder and her fellow 6-foot freshman Jones joining point guard Autrey as newcomers in the starting lineup, there are options.
The Falcons (6-11, 2-4 Mountain West) are off to their best six-game conference start in the team’s D1 history and still building, but now they have the raw materials more suited to the job. None fit that description more completely than Snyder.
“I’d love to keep going that direction in recruiting,” Gobrecht said. “Riley is just such a nice player. We knew when we were able to bring her to Air Force that she was going to be an impact player for us.”
Test approaching for Falcons
The Air Force women’s basketball team travels to Boise State on Wednesday for an opportunity to take stock of their progress against the Mountain West’s first-place team.
“It will be nice to see where we are,” Gobrecht said. “If that’s the first-place team in the conference, how are we doing? Are we close? Do we have a ways to go? It will be interesting to see, especially on their court.”
Boise State (14-2, 5-0 Mountain West) has won nine in a row. The Falcons (6-11, 2-4) are 5-5 in their past 10 regular-season conference games. Prior to that, they had won just 5 of 80 games in the conference.