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Vol. LXIII, No. 22
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
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FAMILY TIES: Princeton University men’s lightweight rowing senior star Justin Teti, second from left, powers through a recent training session on Lake Carnegie. This weekend, Teti, the nephew of former Princeton crew coach Mike Teti and former Tiger rowing star Paul Teti, heads to Sacramento, Calif. to compete in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) regatta. The Tigers enter the national championship regatta undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country.

With Senior Star Teti Doing Family Name Proud, No.1 PU Men’s Lightweight Crew Primed for IRAs

Bill Alden

The Teti name is synonymous with success in U.S. rowing circles.

Mike Teti was a three-time Olympian who went on to coach the U.S. men’s eight to the Olympic gold medal in 2004. He was a longtime coach of the Princeton University men’s heavyweight freshmen crew and is currently guiding the men’s crew program at the University of California.

Teti’s younger brother, Paul, was a rowing star at Princeton University who competed for the U. S. in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympics.

Their nephew, Justin Teti, initially saw his chance for athletic success coming on the ice rather than in the water.

“I was a hockey player in middle school and the first two years of high school,” said Teti, who went to Malvern Prep near Philadelphia and did venture up to Princeton on occasion to see his uncles in action.

“I started at left wing and ended up playing defense. I was a good skater but I didn’t have the best stick skills.”

Naturally, the subject of rowing came up at family gatherings. “My father [Mike’s oldest brother] and my uncle Mike would ask me when I was going to give rowing a shot in a kidding way,” recalled Teti. “I resisted it; I was a little stubborn.”

Teti, though, broke down and gave crew a try in his sophomore year at Malvern. He quickly realized that he was more skilled with the oar than a hockey stick as he helped his novice boat win a Philadelphia city championship in his debut season.

By 2005, Teti was following in the footsteps of uncle Paul, joining the Princeton University crew program. Gradually rising through the ranks, Teti made the men’s lightweight first varsity in his junior season and helped the boat place second at the eastern Sprints and fourth at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) grand final.

This weekend, Teti is looking to culminate his Princeton rowing career in style as the undefeated and Eastern champion Tiger lightweight crew heads to Sacramento, Calif. to compete in the IRA regatta.

While Teti has enjoyed adding to his family’s Princeton rowing tradition, he nearly took another path.

“Princeton was not No. 1 from the start,” said Teti. “I went on the standard visits; I had a good time at Penn and Cornell and I could see myself there. I was totally open to going somewhere else.”

But with Joe Murtaugh, the Tiger lightweight coach at the time, showing the most interest, Teti concluded that he should go to Princeton.

It didn’t take long for Teti to realize that he had made the right decision as he immersed himself in the culture of the Princeton boathouse.

“In high school, I never considered myself as an athlete; I was very much math and science oriented,” said Teti.

“I found that I really enjoyed the boathouse — the coaches, my teammates, and the national rowers training there. I started looking at academic work as the price I had to pay so I could be down at the boathouse.”

With former Tiger lightweight star Greg Hughes taking the helm of the program after Murtaugh retired, it took Teti a while to earn his spurs.

“I had a slow start to winter season in my sophomore year,” recalled Teti. “At the end of my sophomore year, Coach Hughes had a talk with me and said said ‘Justin I know you think you should’ve gotten a shot at the first varsity. I probably could’ve put you in there and the boat wouldn’t have been slower. Keep it up and keep your nose to the grindstone.’”

Teti took Hughes’ message to heart, staying at Princeton that summer, training everyday and working in the singles to refine his technique.

By the time junior season rolled around, Teti was ready to make an impact on the top boat.

“We graduated a bunch of people and there were vacancies,” said Teti. “I was in better shape; it was like the stars had aligned. We didn’t know what to expect, we had eight scrappers on the boat and there was nothing to lose.”

The Tigers hardly lost at all that spring, rebounding from an opening day loss to Navy to win the rest of their regular season dual regattas and rise to No. 1 in the national rankings.

While Teti and his teammates were disappointed by finishing third in the Eastern Sprints and fourth in the IRA, they used that as motivation coming into this season.

“We know that we have to be in the pack and then it’s racing,” explained Teti. “Last year’s boat was a little cleaner; this year we are a little more powerful.

The Tigers have emerged this spring as the most powerful lightweight crew in the country, going undefeated in the regular season and then winning the eastern Sprints last month.

“We didn’t see it coming,” said Teti, in reflecting on the boat’s unblemished spring. “We don’t think about going undefeated; we are just thinking about what we have to do to improve week to week.”

That improvement resulted in a sweet moment at the Eastern Sprints. “With three strokes to go, the cox [Dave Cleveland] said ‘enjoy the view, boys and look at the finish line,’” recalled Teti, who has been rowing on the boat’s sixth seat this spring.

“It was a pretty incredible moment. I have to give our stroke [Robin Prendes] credit; he can gauge the field and react accordingly.”

While Teti was fired up for the Princeton commencement this week, he was planning limit his enjoyment of some of the festivities.

“Graduation is something I have anticipated and looked forward to but it gets back to what I want to do the most,” said Teti.

“Crew has given me so much, we’ve got a good shot at medaling at the IRAs and I want to put myself in the best position to do that. I told my parents I won’t be at all of the events; that I will need some rest between workouts. They are OK with that.”

For Teti, earning gold at the IRAs would be the perfect way to give back something to the Princeton crew program.

“The evolution of the team is what I am most proud of,” maintained Teti.

“Greg says he is getting e-mails from alums. The optimism is infectious, it is unbelievable. As good as it would be for us, we want to do it for the program and for Greg. It has gotten to the point where everyone is excited. I am already proud of what we have accomplished. We are leaving a legacy, the program is going to be strong for years. This keeps people coming to the boathouse.”

And Teti is certainly glad that he became the latest member of his clan to thrive at the Princeton boathouse.

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