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Air Force’s Kassady Huffman (55) blocks a shot from Western Colorado’s Chandler Willis on Tuesday at Clune Arena. (BRENT BRIGGEMAN, THE GAZETTE)

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Kassady Huffman didn’t lose her knack for blocking shots in a year away.

The junior returned in dominant form for Air Force, blocking five shots to go with 10 points, eight rebounds and two steals in a 72-54 victory over NCAA Division II Western Colorado on Tuesday in the season opener at Clune Arena.

“The rim protector,” coach Chris Gobrecht said. “That’s what we missed. Just somebody where, you come in there, you’re going to get blocked. Her presence there makes a big difference for us.”

With Huffman redirecting the action, Western Colorado shot just 35.6 percent.

That advantage allowed Air Force to roll despite some of the early growing pains it anticipated with a starting lineup that included three sophomores, a freshman and a junior — Huffman — who hadn’t played in nearly two years after an academy violation wiped out her sophomore season.

The Falcons shot just 54 percent from the free-throw line, missing 17 on a night that saw 57 fouls called. They turned the ball over 24 times.

But despite that, they were never really challenged.

Kaelin Immel scored 25 points on 10-of-13 shooting. Emily Conroe picked key times for her seven points and added four steals. And freshman Riley Snyder, a prized in-state recruit from Fruita Monument, scored 11 points in just 11 minutes in her debut.

“Oh my gosh, she’s going to be so good it’s scary,” Gobrecht said of Snyder, a 6-foot forward. “She’s a really heady, really good basketball player.”

Gobrecht’s program isn’t to the point where a victory like this can be taken for granted. Last year’s team lost to D2 Colorado Christian and didn’t notch its first victory until Jan. 24. Five more victories quickly followed. Most of the key pieces from that group are back, and now they have added help.

“Future looks good,” Gobrecht said. “Check with us in January.”

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