LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. (AP) For more than a decade, Maggie Steffens has been on the US women’s water polo team.
Sometimes with a ball in hand. Sometimes speaking. Sometimes listening.
For his coach in mourning after the death of his brother.
For an injured teammate in a hospital thousands of miles from home.
And for his sport, leading a race that includes two unprecedented consecutive Olympic gold medals with the bid for third place at the Tokyo Games.
There is definitely the fear of failure, Steffens said. I don’t want to let my teammates down. This is one of my biggest fears for me. I hate to let people down.
It doesn’t happen very often. Steffens, 28, has scored a total of 38 goals in the last two Olympics, winning the MVP award for each. She is a three-time world champion, to accompany three NCAA titles of her time at Stanford.
So when COVID-19 postponed the Tokyo Games, and all the United States could do was train and practice and wonder if there would be an Olympics, Steffens was, well, Steffens.
During a pandemic, I think everyone lost some passion for the sport, and for our sport and this process, said US coach Adam Krikorian. I’m not afraid to admit it. Even myself included. But I’m not sure she’s lost the passion. “
No, not Steffens. To give up would mean to cheat the game. His family’s game. The game that gave her so much, that she always tries to repay.
En route to Tokyo next month, she is among the shortlist of Olympic athletes who may well be the best to ever practice their sport. Even if the pride of Danville, California, is not at all comfortable with this title.
I think people can say whatever they want and everyone has the right to have their own opinion, but for me I wouldn’t be here if I thought I was the best ever, a she said between training sessions at the Los Alamitos Joint Training Base. I still wouldn’t be training. You know, because for me, I still have so much to do to improve myself. “
For everything Steffens does in the pool, what she does outside of the water can be just as important. She became the team’s captain in 2014, and that role took on added significance as the United States was their own opponent for 15 months before sweeping a three-game streak against Canada in May.
The non-matched stretch presented a challenge to the leadership skills of Steffens, who exhibited skillful touch and perfect timing in various situations over the years.
Krikorian lost his brother, Blake, just before the 2016 Olympics. He flew to be reunited with his family in California, then returned to Rio de Janeiro before the United States’ first game.
Hidden behind a pair of sunglasses, an emotional Krikorian spoke of his grief after a debut 11-4 win over Spain. He leaned over at one point, weighed down by his sadness.
It was then that Steffens walked over, put his hand on his back and gave him a consoling smile. Krikorian assured him he was fine, but Steffens stood just beyond his right shoulder until he was done.
She’s the protector of all in some ways, Krikorian said heading into this year’s Olympics. I remember that moment, and she was protecting me.
A captain and his trainer.
Kaleigh Gilchrist was injured when a nightclub balcony collapsed as the United States celebrated its third consecutive world championship of 2019 in South Korea.
Gilchrist had serious lacerations on her left leg and she begged Steffens to stay with her.
I was sort of disappearing, bleeding, shocked and everything, and I just remembered, like Maggie, don’t leave me, Gilchrist said. I feel so comfortable with her. “
Steffens went to the hospital and joined teammate Paige Hauschild alongside Gilchrist. They stayed as long as they could, practically until the team flew to the United States.
A captain and his teammate.
I think Maggie was pushed into a leadership role at a young age, Gilchrist said. And I think there are ups and downs that came with that. But I think the older she gets, the more mature she is.
Steffens is the youngest of four siblings in a Bay Area family with deep roots in water polo. His father, Carlos, played at the University of California and competed for the Puerto Rican national team. She has several parents who played for the Bears, but she followed her older sister, Jessica, to Stanford, and they were teammates when the United States won gold in London.
Maggie is someone who really does a lot of the hard work of what it means to be an elite anything, Jessica Steffens said. She reads books. She reads quotes. … She writes pompous notes. She follows her goals for herself.
Steffens was 8 when she started playing water polo for Maureen OToole Purcell at Diablo Water Polo Club in Northern California. Purcell’s husband Jim played water polo with Carlos Steffens in Cal, and their daughter, Kelly, remains a close friend of Maggie’s.
Maureen O’Toole Purcell, who won silver with the United States at the 2000 Olympics, said Steffens’ talent was evident right away.
She just had that factor. I just knew she was going to be awesome, “she said. You just knew that.
Early in Steffens’ career, after seeing her score on a skillful move during the Junior Olympics, Purcell turned to Jim and Carlos and said Steffens would one day be the best player in the world.
She’s a student of the game. She would watch the games, she would learn, she would understand, Purcell said. She just has a really good water polo spirit. She always thinks three steps ahead.
This includes reflecting on the future of sport through his work with 6-8 Sports, an analytics-based training company Steffens co-founded with former US star Tony Azevedo. Steffens wears number 6 on his cap and Azevedo was number 8 during his playing career.
Steffens’ bond with 6-8 Sports could keep her involved in water polo long after her retirement from the national team. She’s been thinking about life after her playing career, but she doesn’t look like someone who’s lost their edge just yet.
Not with Tokyo on the horizon.
I love sport. … I love this team. I love, I love, I love being part of the USA team, ”said Steffens. “It feeds my fire.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
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