Anchorage — When Alysa Horn takes to the basketball court for the UAA women, the senior displays a versatile skill set that includes everything from slick moves in the post to dribbling by defenders in the open court, to deftly draining 3-pointers.
The 6-foot forward recently became the 12th woman in UAA history to surpass 1,000 career points and is three boards away from becoming the seventh in that group to also have 600 rebounds, two marks that seemed almost out of reach at the beginning of her college career.
It was the end of the 2009-10 season, Horn's second with UAA, when the redshirt freshman received a rude awakening.
"My assistant coach told me 'The way you are right now, you aren't going to play more than five minutes next year,'" Horn said. "That hit me like a sock in the face, because I had been working harder than some of the starters every day. That summer I pretty much had my bed in the gym."
Horn returned home to Kodiak for the summer and decided to train with everything she had. If things didn't work out with the team, she would at least know she put forth her best effort. She spent time working on conditioning and strength, and logged countless hours honing skills in her high school gym.
"I called up my old high school coach and was asking her constantly for the keys to the gym, so she finally told me, 'Just take them,' " Horn said. "Lucky for me, the gym is literally right across the street from my house in Kodiak."
Horn didn't struggle for playing time the following season, starting all 34 games and averaging 11 points and six rebounds on her way to making the All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference second team. She was an All-GNAC honorable mention last season, averaging nine points and five rebounds. This season, she is averaging 15 points and nearly nine rebounds while playing a team-high 35.9 minutes per game.
"Sometimes I have to call time outs just to give her a rest," UAA coach Ryan McCarthy said. "She's in the trenches all game long, so for her to give the kind of effort that she does and to set that example for the rest of the players, that's what makes her really valuable."
Whether in a game or at practice, Horn can look pretty serious on the court, and she said people are often surprised to find out how relaxed she is off the court and what a great sense of humor she has.
"She just comes up with off-the-wall comments sometimes that are pretty funny," McCarthy said. "She's a funny kid, but when it's time to get serious, she can really turn it on."
Horn, 23, got serious about basketball almost immediately after she picked up the game at 8. She played for a youth team coached by her uncle and went on to play at Kodiak High. Playing in college didn't become a realistic idea until the summer between her junior and senior year, when she was noticed by then UAA coach Tim Moser during an Amateur Athletic Union tournament in Arizona.
"I wasn't gonna get seen playing for Kodiak, because we never made it to state my entire high school career," Horn said. "I don't like to admit it, because it's kind of embarrassing, but nobody else was really looking at me, so I'm not sure what (Moser) saw in me."
As the biggest player on the Kodiak girls team, Horn spent a lot of time in the post, but that changed quickly when she arrived at UAA. Moser turned her into a guard and small forward, and Horn welcomed the change. Playing guard helped Horn to become the all-around player UAA fans see today, and it also made practicing alone in the gym more fun.
"It's a lot easier to work on guard skills by yourself than it is posting up on no one," Horn said.
Horn is back to being the biggest on the team this season, so it's a good thing her post game continued to develop during Seawolves practices. She was often asked to oppose Hanna Johansson, a 6-2 center who wrapped her career last season with 1,393 points, the seventh-highest point total at UAA.
Horn, who has reached double-digit point totals in 10 straight games, has 1,064 career points with three games left in the regular season. Currently 11th on the all-time UAA scoring list, she needs 16 points to move up to 10th. The Seawolves host Saint Martin's and Western Oregon this week, and visit UAF next week.
Reaching the 1,000-point club validates Horn's career, McCarthy said, and to come from Kodiak and find a way to elevate her game in college makes it all the more unique and special.
"It's a huge honor," Horn said. "I couldn't ask for a better experience, even though it was hard."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.