Sharing in the Olympic dream
Four student-athletes bond on Women's Water Polo team
There are 17 members of the USA Women's National Water Polo team but only four are current student-athletes -- Sami Hill of UCLA and Annika Dries, Melissa Seidemann and Maggie Steffens of Stanford.
Already sharing a common bond of being Stanford Cardinal teammates, Dries, Seidemann and Steffens have made lasting friendships, overcome obstacles and learned valuables lessons before even playing in an Olympic game.
At 19 years old, Steffens is the youngest player on the Women's National Team, 15 years younger than Heather Petri, the oldest member of the squad and one of two Women's National Team members to have won three Olympic medals.
"It is fun to be the youngest on the team," Steffens said. "I have learned so much from my teammates -- about water polo, life, boys -- everything an 19-year-old needs to know. I feel like I have really grown as a person and as a player."
Aside from being the youngest member of the team, Steffens holds the rare distinction of being one half of the lone pair of siblings to ever be teammates on the Women's National Team. Maggie's older sister Jessica, 25, graduated from Stanford in 2009 and will be playing in her second Olympic Games.
"Competing alongside my sister is definitely a gift," Maggie said. "I'm the youngest of four, so I have always looked up to my siblings. Now I am living my dream with my sister.
It makes me so proud and honored to represent Team USA but even more so to have Jessica and I represent the name 'Steffens' on the biggest stage."
This coming fall, following the Olympics, Steffens ('16) will join Seidemann ('13) and Dries ('14) at Stanford in hopes of helping the Cardinal win its third consecutive national championship.
Seidemann and Dries were both members of Stanford's championship squad in 2011, but took leaves of absence this season to train with the Women's National Team, leaving behind friends, teammates and the chance to compete for a second straight title.
"The leave of absence was particularly hard for me," Seidemann said. "I watched my senior class graduate without me and there were some crazy emotions that went along with that."
Seidemann was reassured that it was all worth it when she attended the graduation ceremony for the Stanford Class of 2012. As the Walnut Creek, Calif. native watched her friends and classmates receive their diplomas, she noticed a few of her best senior friends holding a sign that read, "We love you, Mel."
"It reminded me that I was very much a part of this years' success at Stanford," Seidemann said. "Annika [Dries] and I were able to travel to most of the games in California and share in the championship win at San Diego State University."
Having enjoyed two successful years at Stanford, Dries was accustomed to a busy schedule that included balancing class, water polo and sorority obligations. However, the regiment of the Women's National Team requires less time hitting the books and more time hitting the pool.
"Studying is replaced with more hours in the water and more hours of recovery and rest," Dries said. "If you do not find time to recover and rest, you simply cannot function and stay healthy when you are training six hours a day."
Beginning at around 7:00 a.m., the team meets for an hour of weightlifting before heading to the pool for two hours of conditioning. Players are given until 1:30 p.m. for snacking, napping and leisure activities before stepping back in the water for another three hours.
"With all this training, it has really been about studying my body and reading what it needs from day-to-day to get back to 100 percent," Dries said.
All in all, the three student athletes overwhelmingly agree that competing for the Women's National Team has been well worth the strenuous schedule.
"It is a lot of work and you need a lot of mental strength, but when we are in the game, together as a team, it makes it all worth it," Steffens said.
Even as a decorated collegiate player, Dries, who was named NCAA Tournament MVP in 2011, calls playing for the Olympic team her greatest career accomplishment.
"To have the opportunity to play with the best players in the country and represent the USA as a team is an amazing honor," Dries said.
Dries, Seidemann and Steffens are hoping to help this year's Women's National Team improve upon its silver medal finish in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.