‘She was the one’

By Danielle Nelson

*This article is posted on The Temple News website.

Video by Danielle Nelson and Kirsten Lewis

The Diamond Club was closed that day.

There, the women’s rowing coach Rebecca Grzybowski allowed a few members of the team to meet with several assistant coaching candidates for lunch this past summer.

Yet, that did not prevent Grzybowski from using lunch as a platform to introduce three members of the team to Alyssa O’Donnell.

It was across from Morgan Hall, at the Noshery Gourmet Cafe on Broad Street, where senior captain Moira Meekes said of the six candidates she spoke with, O’Donnell was the one who made the biggest effort to connect with her as they enjoyed their sandwiches.

“[She] jumped right into conversation with us,” Meekes said. “She not only wanted to know about me as an athlete but also me as a student. She was really laid back and fun and easy to talk to, so right away we knew that she was the one.”

Grzybowski said it was extremely important to have the candidates interact with a few members on the team.

“This team is like a family,” Grzybowski said. “They are very close to each other and want to make sure that whoever we are bringing in gets that. It was important to get their feedback because whoever we ended up choosing, which was Alyssa, will spend a lot of time working with our athletes. We want to make sure it is someone who fits well with the people we have on our team. So that was important to me, but on the flip side so that [O’Donnell] knows what she is walking into.”

Born and raised in upstate New York, O’Donnell said she found her love for rowing at an early age. In middle school, O’Donnell first learned the basics of rowing, and she said it took time to learn the techniques of the stroke. But O’Donnell continued to build on it all throughout high school at Saratoga Rowing Association.

O’Donnell decided to expand on rowing experience when she decided to become a member of Nova Southeastern University’s division II rowing program in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

At Nova Southeastern, O’Donnell began reeling in accolades like making the Sunshine State All-Conference Team in 2010 and 2011, winning Female Athlete of the Year in 2011 and winning the Sunshine State Conference title in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, she stroked the Sharks to a fourth-place finish at the NCAA national championships.

It was during her collegiate career in which O’Donnell decided she wanted try coaching.

This past summer, the New York State native coached at the Vesper’s Boat Club program, where Grzybowski also coached. Grzybowski coached the women’s under-23 light-weight team, while O’Donnell coached the junior women’s single sculls.

“I think it was great because it was like an extended interview for Alyssa,” Grzybowski said. “I got to see Alyssa hands-on. I got to see Alyssa before she applied for the job, which was great. So to be able to see how she interact with her athletes, how much she cares about them, how dedicated she is, even her coaching style on the water at practice, her organization, her competitive drive. All of it was great.”

O’Donnell brought her junior women’s team to a fifth-place finish at the Royal Canadian Henley Regatta this summer.

For the past two seasons, O’Donnell spent much of her time on Grand River in Allendale, Michigan, where she served as the assistant coach at one of the nation’s premier women’s rowing club programs in Grand Valley State University, while she earned her masters in communications.

While there, O’Donnell won numerous medals. During the 2013-14 season, she helped to lead the women to a gold medal performance in the collegiate eight event at the Head of the Charles, the latest two-day rowing event in the world, in Boston. O’Donnell coached the first and second variety eight boat to bronze at the Dad Vail Regatta later that season.

After spending much of her career in club and Division II rowing, O’Donnell said she walks onto Main Campus with a desire to learn more about the NCAA and Division I coaching. O’Donnell’s title at Temple is the assistant coach but also the recruiting coordinator.

“I have a lot of responsibility with recruiting,” O’Donnell said. “I will definitely be out traveling looking at high school programs and taking the first steps in finding the next great talent in Philadelphia and in the Northeast – New York, New Jersey and Boston. Just finding the talent and bringing them to Temple, and bringing the program to national success because that is where we want to go.”

She will replace former assistant coach Brian DeDominici on the staff, as he stepped down last May. O’Donnell now accompanies Grzybowski, graduate assistant Taylor Wasserleben and several other volunteers.

Having spent about two weeks with the program, O’Donnell said she is looking forward to getting to know the team on an individual basis.

“They are a very bonded group,” O’Donnell said. “Every time I see one of them I see two or three of them. They have a friendship that is real evident. They know what our goals are and they know that we need to be hitting them. I know they are eager to get on the water and start some races.

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