WESTON, Conn. – Alissa Hornung was thrust into a starring role as a coxswain for the Connecticut Boat Club when she was just a freshman. The Weston High senior not only survived, she also thrived. Now, she’s primed for one more run at a national title with the Norwalk-based club before continuing her career at the University of Virginia.
Hornung joined the team in the spring of her freshman year. Her sister, Jesse, was also a coxswain for coach Liz Trond. Alissa Hornung was the coxswain for the Novice boat when the Junior Varsity cox quit shortly before nationals. Trond put Hornung in as the replacement, and the team finished third in the nation.
“It was a week before regionals when I got called up, and I was really nervous,’’ Hornung said. “I didn’t know the girls that well. Initially my sister definitely helped me improve on my basic skills."
Hornung’s career has been on an upward tick ever since. She served as the cox for the Lightweight 4+ that won the national championship in 2010. As a junior, she directed a team to a third place finish at the Head of the Charles, won the San Diego Crew Classic and finished eighth in the 4+ at nationals, the club’s second-best finish ever in that event.
In the fall, she directed the team to a victory in the Head of the Charles despite losing 16 members from last year’s team. Clearly, she has grown into the role as the crew’s leader.
“People underestimate the position,’’ Hornung said. “I think it’s great to be helping everyone else. You’re the eyes and ears of the boat. It’s great telling them, ‘You’re this close to first place!’ It’s fun getting everyone together and being kind of a leader.”
Before rowing, Hornung’s sports background was limited. “I did soccer when I was really little, if that counts,’’ she said. “I picked up rowing in eighth-grade at Saugatuck Rowing Club. It wasn’t really serious until I got here.”
One of the hardest dynamics for Hornung was to take a leadership role. “It’s not natural for me, but it’s become that way,’’ she said. “I used to be passive and a little unorganized. This sport has definitely changed me.”
Hornung will join a rowing power at Virginia, considered one of the nation’s elite programs. The school has found a deep pool of talent in Fairfield County, including Darien’s Emily Pik and Emily Crump, Wilton’s Molly Frear, Westport’s Liz Youngling, Greenwich’s Hunter and Paige Terry, Weston’s Brittany Wengel and Greenwich’s Cristine Candland. Sisters Betsy and Mary Nilan, from Milford, also rowed for Trond.
She is one of the many rowers in the club's talented senior class who has committed to continue rowing for an elite college program.
“That was the first school that I saw, and I said, 'That’s it, that’s where I want to go,'’’ said Hornung, whose sister competed for Penn. “My dad said, 'Hold on, let’s visit some other schools first.' I went back to the school, and they asked me where else I was looking, and I said, 'Nowhere.' They said, 'Are you sure about that?' I knew what I wanted. I put all of my eggs in one basket, but it worked out.”
Hornung added to her experience last summer by competing for the World Development Team and participating in the High Performance Camp. She has evolved into a position that is part coach, part therapist and part motivator.
“I feel like people don’t know what goes into being a coxswain,’’ Hornung said. “People say, ‘So, you tell people to go out there and row?’ Well, not quite. It’s more complicated than that. People know that I’m dedicated to it, that I spend my summers doing it. It’s something I love.”