Courtesy: Duke Sports Information
Head coach Robyn Horner has led the Duke rowing program for 16 years after being named the university’s first rowing coach on July 1, 1998.
After starting the program from scratch 16 years ago, Horner has turned the team into a perennial ACC top-three finisher as evidenced by its 12 top-three finishes at the conference finals. She has coached sixAll-America selections and 18 student-athletes who went on to receive All-ACC honors.
Horner has twice been named ACC Coach of the Year, most recently in 2006 when she led the program to a second-place finish at the ACC Championships. She also took home the ACC Coach of the Year award in 2002 along with South Region Coach of the Year honors after her Blue Devils earned a spot among the national top-20 throughout the entire season.
The 2013 season saw Duke crack the CRCA/US Rowing Coaches Poll Top-20 in back-to-back weeks as Duke occupied the No. 20 spot. Duke took third at the ACC Championship and stormed past ACC foe Clemson in the varsity eight to take second place. Duke topped the 14th-ranked Tigers twice in 2013, both times on Clemson's home water in Clemson, S.C. Senior Emily Theys earned All-America honors, becoming the sixth Duke rowers under Honor to receive that distinction.
In 2012, Duke turned in several of the fastest times in school history, including top-five marks in the V8, 2V8 and V4. The Blue Devils finished the 2012 season on a strong note, winning the Cal Cup at the San Diego Crew Classic following a third-place finish at the ACC Championships.
Junior Emily Theys received All-ACC honors for the second straight year in 2012 alongside senior Kathy Smithwick after helping the Duke V8 place third in the ACC Championships. Theys went on to earn All-South Region honors as well.
In 2011, Horner led Duke to yet another top-three finish at the conference championships with the Blue Devils finishing third in three of their four races, and in outstanding finish, Duke’s novice eight boat finished second. The Duke team collected 41 points to finish third overall.
Duke’s success was not just limited to the ACC Championship in 2011, however, as the Blue Devils took third place in the varsity eight grand final at the Oak Ridge Inviational ahead of 20th-ranked Notre Dame and 25th-ranked Lousiville and Oklahoma on Melton Lake. Senior Alex Japhet and sophomore Emily Theys were rewarded with All-ACC honors for their efforts during the season.
Along with their success on the water, the Blue Devils also excelled in the classroom last season. A program-record six student-athletes, including Tori Arendt, Katie Burke, Joline Doedens, Rory Erickson-Kulas, Justine Hong and Theys, were all named National Rowing Scholar-Athletes.
In 2010, Duke placed third in all three events they entered notching third place overall at the ACC Championship. Two Blue Devils tabbed All-ACC selections, including Japhet and Erickson-Kulas.
Horner garnered Duke the rowing team to a pair of top-three finishes in the novice eight and varsity four at the 2009 ACC Championships to finish in fifth place with Duke senior Lesley King earning her first All-ACC recognition and was Duke’s lone representative on the all-conference squad.
In 2008, Horner lead her Blue Devils to third place at the ACC Championship and a victory over 10th-Ranked Michigan at Griggs Reservoir as part of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Four Duke rowers were named to the All-ACC Academic Rowing Team, marking the program’s largest All-ACC Academic class since the award was first instituted in 2006.
The 2007 season was similar in that Duke took third at the ACC Championship and tied a school record with three All-ACC selections and another All-America honoree. Duke’s top boat took second place at the conference final, trailing Virginia by less than six seconds.
In 2006, Horner guided the Blue Devils to a second-place overall finish at the ACC Championship despite competing in only three of the four races. Three Blue Devils earned All-ACC honors that season, including Tonia Boock, Caroline Wray and eventual two-time All-America Lia Hart. Duke went on to finish 11th at the Aramark Central/South Region Sprints that season with three Blue Devils receiving All-South Region citations.In 2005, Duke finished third at the ACC Championship with two Blue Devils earning All-ACC honors. Duke then placed 15th at the Central/South Region Sprints to end yet another successful campaign. A program-high 38 student-athletes were named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll following the 2005 season.
The 2004 season marked a new era for Horner and Blue Devil Rowing. With the graduation of the first recruited class, Horner had a very talented but young squad to mold. Under her leadership and training, the team turned out to be the deepest squad yet. Duke began by winning the Longhorn Invitational on the strength of victories by the first varsity 8+ and second varsity 8+. For the third straight year, the Blue Devils captured second place at the ACC Championship. At the Regional Championships, the second varsity 8+ made history, winning the petite final. Individual postseason honors included one All-America, one CRCA National Scholar Athlete, two All-South region and two All-ACC selections.
During the 2003 season, the Blue Devil program continued its development under the guidance of Horner. Duke placed second at the ACC Championship and the varsity 8+ finished second in the petite final of the Jessop-Whittier Cup at the San Diego Crew Classic.
In 2002, Horner guided the Blue Devils to a top-20 ranking through the entire spring season. In addition to the national ranking and a second-place finish at the ACC Championship, the varsity 8+ also won the Cal Cup at the San Diego Crew Classic and finished sixth in the Grand Final at the South/Central Region Sprints, narrowly missing the cut for an NCAA bid. For the team’s aggressive jump in performance in 2002, Horner was awarded ACC and Southern Region Coach of the Year honors.
End of the season honors were numerous for the Duke rowers in 2002 as well, with two All-Americas and four All-South Region selections. Success was also enjoyed off the water, as 33 rowers were named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll and three Blue Devils were named National Scholar Athletes. The award is based on achieving a 3.5 or higher GPA and rowing 75 percent of the races in the varsity 8+.
Horner came to Duke after an impressive two-year stint as the head women’s coach at Williams College in Massachusetts. Horner led Williams to the No. 1 ranking both in the 1996-97 and the 1997-98 seasons. In her final season at Williams, Horner’s varsity 8+ squad won the New England Championship and had a varsity 4+ that finished fifth at the NCAA Championship. In addition, one of her athletes was selected to represent the National Team at the Nations Cup in Greece during the summer of 1998 and went on to make the 2000 Olympic Team. Prior to her two seasons at Williams, Horner led Minnesota’s novice squad to two Dad Vail championships. Her teams also claimed four medals at Collegiate Nationals.
Following her collegiate career, Horner went on to compete as a nationally competitive lightweight. She earned a berth on the U.S. National Lightweight team and competed in the World University Games. Her personal sweep and sculling honors and awards include: four U.S. Elite National Championships and numerous Royal Canadian Henley, Head of the Charles and Olympic Festival medals.
A committed competitor, Horner understands the demands and the time constraints of her student-athletes at Duke. At Minnesota, Horner earned her Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering while pouring hours of energy into training as a rower.
Horner began her eight-year engineering career as an environmental engineer with the U.S. Forest Service and later went on to be a consulting engineer. However, her love of rowing, along with her desire to teach that passion, drew her to coaching.