Youngest Steffens plays like a vet for Team USA
Incoming Stanford freshman Maggie Steffens owns an advantage over most of her future Cardinal women's water polo teammates.
The high school All-American has been playing with the U.S. National Team for nearly three years and among her current teammates are Melissa Seidemann and Annika Dries, who will join Steffens in the fall at Stanford in hopes of challenging for a third straight national title.
Steffens, who grew up in San Ramon and Danville, already has made several trips to the Avery Aquatic Center, where she watched older sister Jessica play for Stanford.
She's already played an international match there, too, when Team USA hosted China in an exhibition match two years ago.
Steffens returns for her second match at the pool when the U.S. Olympic Team hosts Hungary in an exhibition match Monday night at 6 p.m. Her older sister, Dries and Seidemann also will play, as will Stanford grad and USA team captain Brenda Villa.
USA coach Adam Krikorian was raised in Mountain View. Seidemann and USA's Heather Petri (who played at Cal) are also East Bay residents, guaranteeing the match will generate a lot of fan reaction. The contest is expected to sell out.
"I used to go watch Jess play a lot and then, when we played the exhibition match I couldn't believe how many people were there," Steffens said. "It was packed."
The national team is the only opportunity the sisters have had in playing with the same team, which makes Monday night's match even more special.
"We rarely get to see our families so we're very excited to see them," Steffens said. "There will be family and friends there who have never seen us play, or haven't seen us play since we were little. I'm so proud to represent the USA and my family name."
Until Jessica committed to Stanford, there was no reason to believe any of the Steffens family would consider the Cardinal. Most of her family, including both parents, an older brother and dozens of cousins, went to California.
"I grew up wearing blue and gold," Steffens said. "I hated Stanford. When I was little I was a Cal Bear. That was before I really knew anything."
There's a running family joke that the Steffens sisters take advantage of special occasions and large family gatherings by wearing their 'Beat Cal' T-shirt. That would always get a response from the rest of the family as in "what the . . . ?" It was all in good fun, of course.
"My parents are proud that Jessica went to Stanford," Steffens said. "During my recruiting process I was still considering UCLA, USC, and Cal. Once I started to watch Jessica play I grew to love the way the team was run. When I stepped on campus, I knew Stanford was right."
Steffens is the youngest player on the national team, but that's nothing new for her. She's the youngest, of four, in her family. When she's playing, she doesn't feel like the youngest.
"When I hung out with Jessica during age-group play, I would sometimes scrimmage with the older team," Steffens said. "When I first started with the national team that was when Jess was recovering from surgery and that gave me the chance to put myself on the team as Maggie and not Jess' little sister. I made a player of myself and when she came back we were not only sisters, but teammates and friends."
It doesn't seem to bother anyone that Villa, who is making her fourth, and most likely last, Olympic Games, is 14 years older than Maggie and serves as team leader.
"She is awesome," Steffens said. "She has so much experience and so much knowledge you would think she knew it all. That's not how she is. She learns every single day, and she's teaching every day. That's a great trait to have and something I want to become. When we're together it seems like we're all the same age."
Maggie Steffens has more than held her own with the Americans, who are still looking to win their first gold medal after finishing second twice and third once in three previous Olympic appearances.
Steffens led Team USA with 11 goals at the 2012 FINA World League Super Final and scored six goals on the way to a gold medal and Olympic qualification at the 2011 Pan American Games.
This year, she's hoping to share a golden opportunity, not only with her sister and teammates, but also with family, friends and the rest of the country when Team USA takes on the world at the 2012 Summer Games in London, England.