Sports Women’s Swimming and Diving: A Coach for Life

By Brett Tomlinson   Published in the February 8, 2017 Issue

Photo by Beverly Schaefer
In 33 seasons, Susan Teeter’s teams have won 17 Ivy titles.
Teeter to step away after building a tradition of successful swimmers
Women’s swimming and diving coach Susan Teeter keeps a handful of magic tricks in her office on the deck of DeNunzio Pool. One of her favorites is a “magic vase” that she has used to motivate her team at big meets.

“No matter how much you drain it, when you set it down, magically, water appears again,” she says with a half-smile. The message: When you think you’re empty, you’ve got to make that water appear, somehow, some way.

For 33 seasons, Teeter has been replenishing the reservoir of Princeton swimming with remarkable success, leading the Tigers to 17 Ivy League championships and more than two dozen All-America certificates. Later this month, her team will try to bring the coach one more title.

Teeter announced her upcoming retirement in early December, and appreciative messages from alumni and others in the swimming community quickly followed. “It’s been humbling,” she says. “Some of the emails and some of the cards I have to stop reading because I can’t see through my tears.”

When alumni talk about Teeter — invariably “Teeter,” never “Susan” or “Coach” — they highlight the same characteristics: her grace and class; her insightfulness and dedication; her emotional IQ; and the leaping, cheering enthusiasm that momentarily overrides her best efforts to stay calm and composed during meets.

Grace Cornelius Limaye ’95 recalls the first time she met Teeter, at a national meet in 1989. In the warmup pool, another swimmer accidentally jumped in on top of Limaye, and the edge of Limaye’s goggles opened a gash under her eye. Teeter “basically just dropped everything and helped me,” says Limaye, who went on to be an All-American and captain at Princeton. “That’s what she does, and that’s why she has such a devoted following.”

“Anyone can write a practice or take a split,” says Nikki Larson ’16, one of last year’s captains, “but not all coaches can figure out what makes people tick. … [We knew] she would be there, even if it wasn’t swimming-related.”

For Lisa Boyce ’14, another team captain and All-American, Teeter’s influence was apparent when she first met the upperclass swimmers during a recruiting trip. “They seemed poised, they seemed put-together,” she says. “They were the people I wanted to grow up to be like.”

Alyson Goodner ’00 adds that with a roster of more than 40 athletes, Teeter works to make sure “everyone feels appreciated and respected.” Goodner has had a particularly close relationship with the coach, who officiated at her wedding in 2012 and now is the godmother to her son. Even long after graduation, Goodner says, “she’s someone we constantly strive to make proud of us.”

As a competitive swimmer, Teeter’s career did not have a smooth start. She entered high school a few years after Title IX passed, opening the modern era of women’s athletics. But the schools in her native Memphis were slow to welcome girls’ teams. Teeter petitioned the board of education to swim in the boys’ meets, a request that the athletic director approved with a caveat: The girls would need to find their own supervisor. Teeter convinced the football coach to sign on, and into the water she went.

Soon after, while working as a lifeguard at a local country club, Teeter took her first coaching job. “I just got hooked on motivating young people and seeing the reaction when they could achieve something that they didn’t think they could achieve,” she says.

At the University of Tennessee, Teeter started as a team manager and was promoted to assistant coach while still an undergrad. By the time she became Princeton’s head coach in 1984, she was a veteran of sorts, though still only a few years older than her swimmers.

Teeter won her first Ivy title in 1990 when the Tigers swam to a 7-0 dual-meet record. In the next decade, her teams won the league four more times, and the coach served on the staffs of two U.S. Olympic teams. From 1998 to 2004, women’s swimming and diving won 47 straight dual meets, a Princeton record for any sport. The Tigers remain a perennial favorite at the Ivy meet, winning four of the last seven titles.

Teeter says she has always wanted “to be somebody who walks off the deck when I still love the sport and still love coaching.” The downside, she concedes, is that she’ll miss the job. But she hopes to stay connected to her sport. She is president of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America, with a full year left on her term. She also runs team-building workshops part time and hopes that work will continue to provide an “inspirational fix.”

“I’m never going to stop coaching,” she says. “Coaching’s ingrained in me.”

Dec. 15 TigerCast: Susan Teeter Reflects On 33 Years Of Team-Building, Titles, And Tradition

Dec. 15 TigerCast: Susan Teeter Reflects On 33 Years Of Team-Building, Titles, And Tradition

Only a few days removed from her retirement announcement, Princeton women’s swimming & diving coach Susan Teeter joins TigerCast for a long sit-down about her career — from the mentors who helped her to those first few hours after her announcement. She talks about team-building, creating the foundation for a championship run, coaching Alicia Aemisegger, and plenty more in this 30-minute sitdown with the 17-time Ivy League champion.

Interview: Susan Teeter 4:45.

TigerCast is a weekly podcast that features interviews with both athletes and coaches, as well as provides coverage of the biggest upcoming events for Princeton’s 37 varsity teams. For the first time, you can now subscribe to TigerCast through iTunes or a variety of other podcast apps; you can also go directly to the TigerCast page, or you can listen to each week’s show directly from GoPrincetonTigers.com

Venerated Princeton Swim Coach Susan Teeter Announces Retirement Following 2016-17 Season

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Susan Teeter, who has both guided 17 Princeton teams to Ivy League titles and earned the 2011 “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the College Swim Coaches Association, announced her retirement from coaching Saturday morning after an incredible 33-year run at Princeton University.

Teeter — whose Princeton career has also included 22 All-America honorees, two different win streaks that extended beyond 40, and more than 220 team victories — will coach the Tigers through the remainder of the 2016-17 season.

“While I have known this day would eventually come, it’s quite hard to believe it’s here,” Teeter said. “I have made the choice to retire from my head coaching position at the end of this season, even though at my age, retirement is not a word I plan to keep in my vocabulary. While I am looking forward to the next opportunities and challenges that await me, I will forever consider myself a member of the Tiger and PUCSDT families. I am so proud of the tradition and legacies that we have built here at Princeton, and I am so grateful for the relationships I have made and will carry on for the rest of my life. Princeton is such a special place, and it will always remain that way in my heart.

“I wanted to share my deepest appreciation for everybody who has played a role in this tradition we have built for PUCSDT,” said Teeter, whose full statement can be found here. “While we still have work to do this year, I know I can walk away from Princeton with a full heart, because we have created something that goes far beyond wins and losses, Ivy titles and All-America honors. We have created a family, a bond that our swimmers and divers will have for the rest of their lives, and one that I will have for the rest of mine as well.”

Her career has been nothing short of remarkable. Princeton’s all-time leader in wins, Teeter has racked up 223 dual meet victories to only 58 losses (.788), and she has guided the Tigers to an incredible 17 of their 22 Ivy titles, including 12 championships in the last 17 seasons.

“There are few coaches in the sport of swimming, or throughout the NCAA for that matter, who have had as much success as Coach Teeter,” Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan said. “She is a legend by all standards. Her talents and her impact extend well beyond the technical aspects of coaching, as she has truly changed the lives of over three decades of Princeton swimmers through her total commitment to developing the whole student-athlete.

“Her record speaks for itself, but her true impact is evident through the longstanding relationships she has developed within the department, the University and within the national and international swimming communities. Both Princeton Swimming and Diving and Princeton Athletics have been so fortunate to have Teeter on our team for so many years, and I am personally fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with her for the past two and a half years. I know she will stay forever connected to Princeton.”

“While replacing Teeter is an impossible task, we are 100% committed to hiring the next legendary coach of Princeton Women’s Swimming and Diving to carry on the mission of both Coach Teeter and the whole department,” Marcoux Samaan added.

Since the turn of the century, Princeton has put together a pair of remarkable streaks. During a seven-season stretch, her teams won a Princeton-record 47 consecutive meets, a streak that ended in 2004 at nationally ranked Pittsburgh. Princeton also won five consecutive Ivy League titles during that time period (2000-04).

Princeton won 43 consecutive dual meets during an era that featured the dominant career of Alicia Aemisegger ’10, who would go on to be named the GoPrincetonTigers.com Female Athlete of the Decade and remains one of the most accomplished swimmers in Ivy League history. Aemisegger earned 13 All-America honors, including one in the 800 free relay (2008), and she led the Tigers to three Ivy League championships.

Under Teeter’s tutelage, Aemisegger also reached 10 NCAA individual finals — she placed as high as second in two of them — won all 12 of her Ivy League championship finals and reached the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials final in the 400 IM, a race televised live on NBC. She ended her career with nine of the 14 individual Princeton records.

If people thought Princeton would fall off after Aemisegger’s graduation, they were mistaken. Princeton has won three of the last six Ivy League titles, and it sent two swimmers to the 2014 NCAA Championships. Lisa Boyce ’14 reached the NCAA final in the 100 fly to earn first-team All-America honors, while Nikki Larson ’16 made her debut at nationals.

“Being able to work with Teeter the past seven years has been an amazing opportunity,” associate head coach Suzanne Yee said. “Her passion for the family and tradition she has built here at Princeton, and her commitment to furthering young women’s coaching careers at the collegiate level is second to none. Teeter has continued to expect, give, and receive excellence – in the classroom, in the pool, and as young women.

“Her commitment to mentoring, team building, and success has taken this team to a level unparalleled in the conference, if not the country. I have been able to continue my learning curve on a daily basis working with Teeter, and I hope that I can leave a legacy in the lives of the student-athletes that I have worked with like she has done for the past 33 years.”

Her peers have taken notice of Teeter’s place in the sport. She was honored with the prestigious College Swim Coaches Association “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2011, and she earned an American Swimming Coaches Award of Excellence five straight years from 2006 through 2010, as well as one in 2014. During the spring of 2014, she was voted president of the College Swimming Coaches Association of America. The CSCAA later bestowed the Distinguished Service Award in College Swimming.

Recently, Teeter was honored with both the United States Swimming Outstanding Women in Swimming Award, as well as the “Athlete Coach Exemplar” award; the latter was given by the HumanEx Culture Assessment Company.

“It is very hard to put into words all that Susan has done for the PUCSDT family during her time at Princeton,” head coach Rob Orr, Teeter’s teammate throughout all 33 years. “As in any family, both the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams have always been a close-knit group. Susan’s constant guidance and support of working with all individuals of both teams has laid the groundwork for helping produce the best, most well-rounded student athletes and alumni in the country.

“The hundreds that she has come in contact with have had the opportunity of learning not only about training and teamwork, but more importantly the necessary skills to lead an enjoyable and productive life,” Orr added. “She will be sorely missed and we wish her the best.”

Teeter has mentored swimmers who went on to become Olympians, NCAA qualifiers, All-Americas, senior national/Olympic trial qualifiers, World University Games team members and Ivy League champions.

Teeter spent the summer of 2000 serving on the U.S. coaching staff at the Summer Olympics in Sydney and the summer of 1996 as the head manager of the Olympic team in Atlanta. In all, she has been on the staff of nine international swim teams. She served as a special consultant to Speedo USA for all Olympic and World Championships.

In the winter of 2000, Teeter’s senior class established the Susan S. Teeter Award, which is given annually to the senior class swimmer who, during her four-year career, distinguishes herself as an outstanding student and a valuable member of the women’s swimming team.

In 1988 she received the Master Coach Award from the College Swimming Coaches Association for her contributions to collegiate swimming. Teeter also was recently awarded the credentials of Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst by Target Training International, Ltd. An honorary member of both the Class of 1985 and 1986, Teeter is also a Certified Professional Values Analyst.

Princeton will hold a national search for Teeter’s successor.

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GRIT- do you have it? Have you reached the PEAK?

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Pictured left to right: Anders Ericsson (Author of PEAK), Lauri Bonacorsi (Research Asst. to Angela Duckworth); Danny Southwick (Arena Football League; Masters under Carol Dweck and Ph.D Candidate); Susan Teeter (Princeton Swimming Coach & President of College Swimming); Rebecca Nyquist-Baelen (Penn Ph.D. candidate and Research Asst. to Angela Duckworth); Terry Laughlin (Total Immersion Videos & Books) and last, but certainly not least Angela Duckworth (Author of GRIT and Head of the Character Lab at UPENN)

I had the great fortune of being invited by Angela Duckworth, to sit in a think tank with all of the great minds pictured above.  This was in honor of her collaborative work with the renowned  Anders Ericsson, who is presently a Professor at Florida State.  From 11am to 5pm we talked non-stop and ran out of time!  I encourage you if you’re reading this entry, to check out Anders book, PEAK and Angela’s book GRIT.

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