AIR FORCE ACADEMY — Colorado women’s soccer coach Danny Sanchez is dealing with the sort of problem most coaches would gladly take on.
The 2018 version of the Buffaloes is more talented, top to bottom, than any of Sanchez’s previous six teams at CU. The season opener Thursday night at Air Force allowed Sanchez an opportunity to fully utilize that roster, as substitutions were used liberally during a 3-0 win at Cadet Soccer Stadium.
Freshman Kayleigh Webb opened the scoring early with her first career goal, while junior Tatum Barton provided a much-needed cushion with her first goal of 2018 in the 70th minute.
“It’s early in the season, so you want to give everybody some minutes as best as you can. But obviously we want to win games,” said Sanchez, who used 21 players. “I thought the difference is in the past sometimes you sub just for the sake of subbing. You sub here, you can still play at a high tempo and there’s not a big drop-off.”
The wealth of talent on the Buffs’ roster forced a few accomplished players to come off the bench, while Webb and Jesse Loren earned starting nods in their first collegiate games. Among the reserves on Thursday were sophomore Marty Puketapu, who led the Buffs with eight goals last season, and senior Alex Vidger, who logged 34 of her 37 career starts over the past two seasons.
The two freshmen justified their coach’s decision to give them starting assignments rather quickly.
Late in the 10th minute a corner kick from Libby Geraghty was settled amid traffic in the top center of the penalty box. After the ball deflected off Loren, Webb collected it and turned on an Air Force defender before beating Falcons goalie Jennifer Hiddink to give CU a 1-0 lead.
Some bad luck — a Geraghty shot was turned away by the post in the 18th minute — and a few highlight-reel saves from Hiddink, a first team All-Mountain West Conference goalie last year, kept the Buffs off the scoreboard until Barton gave CU a 2-0 edge in the 70th minute.
Junior Taylor Kornieck capped the scoring with an unassisted goal with one minute remaining.
Webb admitted to battling nerves in her first collegiate game and didn’t know she was going to start until earlier Thursday. Two freshmen classmates, Loren and Emily Groark, accounted for two of the Buffs’ three assists.
“This whole preseason has been very stressful, being a freshman not knowing what to do. It’s just very chaotic,” Webb said. “All of the girls were so welcoming. They lifted me up. I didn’t have as much confidence coming in so that really hurt my play. But as time went on they all boosted me up. We have a lot of strength up top. We can sub in and out and our bench is so strong.”
Geraghty, a redshirt freshman, was in the starting lineup one year after suffering a season-ending knee injury in the 2017 season opener at Colorado State…The Buffs improved to 7-1 all-time against Air Force with seven consecutive wins. The past five of those victories have been shutouts…CU hasn’t lost a season-opener since 2003…The Buffs host CSU in their home opener at Prentup Field at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
Colorado 3, Air Force 0
At Cadet Soccer Stadium
Colorado (1-0) 1 2 — 3
Goals (assists) — Colorado: Webb (Loren), 10th minute; Colorado: Barton (Puketapu, Groark), 70th minute; Colorado: Kornieck, 90th minute.
Goalies (Min-Goals allowed-Saves) — Air Force: Hiddink (90-3-6); Colorado: Tompkins (45-1-2), Watson (45-0-1).