AIR FORCE ACADEMY — The new-look Colorado Buffaloes were perhaps more eager than usual to get the 2016 season started, given the 10-game winless streak that ended, and ruined, their 2015 campaign.
Once the squad arrived at the Air Force Academy Friday to kick off the 2016 slate, Mother Nature conspired to make the Buffs wait just a little longer.
Following a pregame lightning delay of 1 hour, 45 minutes, the Buffs needed to fight through a cold and wet headwind before finally asserting themselves against the Falcons, ultimately pulling away for a 2-0 victory on a perfect autumn night in mid-August.
Sarah Kinzner scored the go-ahead goal with three seconds remaining in the first half, while sophomore Alex Vidger provided breathing room with her first career goal late in the second half.
"With the delay, obviously I was pleased with the way we came out," CU head coach Danny Sanchez said. "We played with good tempo in the first half, especially with the wind against us and created a few chances. But the key to the game was Sarah getting that goal right before the half. We were able to settle down and then Air Force was forced to come after us a little bit."
With the Buffs working against the wind for the first 45 minutes, senior Danica Evans put together the only significant scoring threats for the Buffs. Three times Evans, the Buffs' co-leader in goals last year, was able to fire shots on-frame against Air Force goalie Alex Kahalley, but Kahalley was able to stop all three. The last of those saves was particularly impressive, as a diving Kahalley was able to keep the game scoreless with about five minutes remaining in the first half.
Yet Kinzner was able to break that scoreless tie just before the break, benefitting from a nifty assist from sophomore Stephanie Zuniga. Zuniga beat a pair of Air Force defenders at the top right side of the penalty box, sliding a pass to her left to a wide-open Kinzner. After scoring just one goal while making all 20 starts a year ago, Kinzner buried her first shot on goal of the season to give the Buffs a 1-0 edge at the break.
"It's very challenging to keep your head in the game with all these things going on like lightning outside," Kinzner said. "Our team is so close, we just pumped some music, stayed in focus, and got our mindset right. It was the first game, so there's always stuff you can improve on. But I thought it went well, considering the time delay and all that stuff."
Sanchez began his fifth season by alternating his two goalies, giving redshirt freshman Jalen Tompkins the starting nod and substituting redshirt sophomore Scout Watson to start the second half. Neither goalkeeper was seriously challenged by the Falcons, with Tompkins credited with one save and Watson two.
Along the defensive line Sanchez moved Erin Greening, a midfielder last year, to an outside back position alongside Vidger, Kahlia Hogg, and Joss Orejel. Sanchez also awarded a start to freshman forward Taylor Kornieck in her CU debut. Kornieck, a co-captain on the United States' U-18 National Team this past summer, is the highest-rated recruit to join the CU program under Sanchez's watch.
The Buffs will face Colorado State in their home opener on Sunday (3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks), with the Rams coming off a 2-0 season-opening win Friday against the University of Denver.
"I thought we started getting a little impatient in the secon dhalf and started losing our rhythm of play a little bit, but it's probably nit-picking there," Sanchez said. "We were good in the back, and maybe probably could have done a little bit better in the final third. But overall, first game without having an exhibition game, I'm pleased to get the shutout and score a couple goals."
Colorado 2, Air Force 0
At Cadet Soccer StadiumColorado (1-0-0) 1 1 — 2
Air Force (0-1-0) 0 0 — 0
Goals (assists) — Colorado: Kinzner (Zuniga), 45th minute; Vidger, 79th minute.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Colorado: Tompkins (45-0-1); Watson (45-0-2); Air Force: Kahalley (90-2-3).