Maggie Steffens idolized her older sister growing up in the East Bay. She'd hang around while the then 12-year-old Jessica practiced with her age group water polo team. Sometimes Maggie would get an invitation to participate in a scrimmage.
Fast forward 10 years or so and Maggie is once again playing with her older sister. These days it's a little more special than just splashing around in the pool having fun.
The Steffen sisters are part of the United States Olympic Women's Water Polo team that will be looking to win the gold medal this summer.
Men's water polo has been around since the early days of the Modern Olympics but the women's game was introduced in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
U.S. team captain Brenda Villa, a Stanford grad, had to play with the boys team at her high school if she wanted to play at all.
Villa and Cal-Berkeley grad Heather Petri will be playing in their fourth, and likely last, Olympic Games. They'd love to go out with a gold medal, something that has eluded the Americans in their first three attempts.
Team USA does have the distinction of being the only country to have medaled in each Olympic competion (two silvers and a bronze) but it just doesn't seem enough.
The Americans were in the area Monday to play Hungary, also their first opponent in London, at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center as part of a series of exhibition games.
It's only fitting the first game be played at Stanford, from where both Villa and Jessica Steffens graduated. Maggie Steffens will be a freshman there in the fall and Olympians Melissa Seidemann and Annika Dries are also students there.
Petri and Elise Wendes are Cal products, while Juliet Moss hails from San Jose State.
Southern California, UCLA and Michigan are also represented. Head coach Adam Krikorian is a native of Mountain View.
Maggie Steffens, a high school All-American, is the youngest player on the national team. Jessica is nearly six years older. Petri is the oldest at 34 and Villa is 32.
"She is awesome," Steffens said of Villa. "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."
Villa coached at Castilleja School in Palo Alto when she wasn't busy getting ready for the Olympics.
Preparing for the Olympics is a full-time job, which is why several team members take a year off from school.
"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 see us play, or haven't seen us play since we were little. I'm so proud to represent the USA and my family name."
Steffens has more than held her own with the Americans. She 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.
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