Head coach Robyn Horner has led the Duke rowing program for 17 years after being named the university’s first rowing coach on July 1, 1998.
After starting the program from scratch 17 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 20 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 2014 campaign had Duke appear in the CRCA/US Rowing Coaches Poll in consecutive seasons, and for the seventh time under Horner. It was the Blue Devils’ ninth overall appearance in the poll and third in the last two seasons. Duke’s varsity eight led the way the entire season, advancing to the Grand Final at the ACC Championship as the team earned an overall fifth-place finish at the event. Katie Dukovich was named to the CRCA All-South Region first team while Caroline Williams earned a spot on the second team.
A year earlier in 2013, Duke cracked the CRCA/US Rowing Coaches Poll Top-20 in back-to-back weeks at 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. Senior Emily Theys earned All-America honors, becoming the sixth 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. Emily Theys received All-ACC honors for the second straight year in 2012 alongside 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 placing 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. Alex Japhet and 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 with a program-record six student-athletes, including Tori Arendt, Katie Burke, Joline Doedens, Rory Erickson-Kulas, Justine Hong and Theys all named National Rowing Scholar-Athletes.
In 2010, Duke placed third in all three events it entered, notching third place overall at the ACC Championship. Two Blue Devils tabbed All-ACC selections, including Japhet and Erickson-Kulas.
Horner guided Duke 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 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, 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, 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 the campaign.
The 2004 season marked a new era, which started 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 picks and two All-ACC selections.
In 2003, 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 South Region Coach of the Year honors. End of the season honors were numerous for the Duke rowers in 2002 as well, with two All-America honorees and four All-South Region selections.
Horner came to Duke after an impressive two-year stint as the head women’s coach at Williams College in Massachusetts. She led Williams to the No. 1 ranking both in the 1996-97 and the 1997-98 seasons. In her final season, 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 competed 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.
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.