In an interview from May of 2020, the captain of the United States women’s water polo team said that her squad’s success in the pool was not due to any “secret weapon.”
M. Steffens Olympic Games Tokyo 2020
The U.S. Women’s Water Polo team is, without a doubt, one of the best in the world.
They have won the last two Olympic titles, as well as the last three FINA World Championships and the Pan American Games. As a matter of fact, they didn’t lose for the first time in 69 games until January of 2020.
There isn’t some magic formula or special ingredient; rather, it’s the people we’ve assembled and are working to improve. The individuals, the team, and the way we work and train are what make the difference, USA captain Maggie Steffens told.
Honestly, we are a hard-working, driven, never-give-up, and exceptionally wonderful group of ladies.
That’s why they should come as no surprise as the heavy favourites to win gold again in Tokyo in 2020. This is, however, merely one of Steffens’ many ambitions in the realm of her chosen sport.
That kind of thing Runs in her Family
For as long as anyone can remember, Steffens has been a part of the water polo scene.
Her father, Carlos, was a three-time All-American at the University of California, Berkeley, after being introduced to the sport as a child in Puerto Rico. Each of Maggie’s three elder brothers was also a water polo player, and Carlos met his wife, Peggy, through the sport.
And so, it made perfect sense.
I remember having water polo balls in the backyard and going to see men’s Cal (Berkeley) games with my dad and siblings,” Steffens recalled.
We didn’t have water polo where I grew up, so I didn’t understand the name, but I did recognise a water polo ball. My familiarity with the yellow ball stems from my years spent using it for various sports, including soccer and basketball.
Maureen O’Toole, a silver medalist at the first Olympic Games to feature women’s water polo, founded the first water polo club in her hometown of Danville, California, when she was just eight years old.
Steffens finally decided to give the sport a shot after years of eyeing the yellow ball that was used in it. Steffens, only nine years old at the time, had to play co-ed U18’s because there were no U12’s or U14’s teams available.
Rather of “playing,” she merely “being there,” she said.
The opportunity to compete against athletes with greater skill, speed, and intelligence than herself taught the youngster the value of challenge, the acceptance of setbacks, and the necessity of constant growth through competition. Steffens remained playing in older divisions even as the team added additional players of all ages the next year.
“If I kept working at it, I would inevitably improve.”
Aspirations for the Olympics, and Sisterly Bonds
Maggie’s family travelled to Beijing in 2008 to cheer on her sister Jessica, who had just been named to the U.S. water polo team. The opportunity to attend the Olympics inspired 15-year-old Maggie to dream of competing in the games herself someday.
“It was a fantastic adventure. Since I was a little girl, I wanted to be an Olympic athlete, and Mia Hamm was the athlete I most looked up to. Once I discovered water polo, I realised that perhaps I might achieve my goal of being a professional athlete.
Really, I thought it was possible for me to be there. And I believe that it was seeing my sister and the team in action and knowing that I wanted to be there for her that inspired me to join the team myself. We would be unstoppable if we worked together; I knew it.
After waiting only a year to make her senior international debut, Steffens won gold with her teams at both the 2010 FINA World League Super Final and FINA World Cup.
At the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Maggie and Jessica represented the United States together in water polo, and their 8-5 victory over Spain gave the United States its first-ever Olympic gold medal. Maggie was the tournament’s most valuable player after setting an Olympic record with 21 goals.
The younger sibling, however, plays down her abilities to her older sibling.
Steffens remarked that her experience in London in 2012 stands out as “absolutely my most wonderful moment,” adding, “I always tell her [Jessica] she was like my superpower when I play in 2012 because she almost took all the burden off me and enabled me to be myself and just play the game.”
“Knowing I had her there was like having a superpower,” the author writes of her feeling of unwavering confidence in her staff.
What Comes After Tokyo 2020, If Ever
Gold for Steffens and her squad in Rio four years ago meant waiting another year to begin defending their crown.
Steffens said of the delay of the Tokyo 2020 Games, “At first it was hard to manage, but [I’ve] thoroughly accepted it and continuing training for the following year.”
“Of course, we want to win gold for our country and for ourselves, and to be the finest team in the world.”
USA women’s water polo teams have been unbeatable at the Olympics since losing in the silver medal game in Beijing in 2008. Steffens concedes, however, that the women’s game is challenging, with countries like Spain, Hungary, China, Australia, Italy, Canada, Russia, and Greece typically finishing in the top three.
She remarked that the fierce international competition in the women’s side of water polo was part of the sport’s appeal.
But beyond the pool, Steffens is driven by her desire to see women’s water polo flourish and for young girls to see these pioneers of the sport as role models and aspire to emulate them.
Steffens: “I am really grateful for all the women who pioneered the sport for us even before 2000 so we, as women, can help the sport expand even further and make it more open for women, [provide] more possibilities, more pay…so even when I am long gone the sport is better for women.”
With that inspiration behind me, I feel compelled to pay it forward and serve as a positive example for the next generation of young women.