If you look up legendary athletes competing in women’s water polo, you’re bound to see Maggie Steffens’ name at the top of every list. Steffens is a 29-year-old “utility player” who has competed on the U.S. Women’s National Water Polo Team since 2009. Steffens scored a total of 18 goals during the Olympic Games in Tokyo, helping her team win their third consecutive gold medal and becoming the all-time leading scorer in Olympic women’s water polo history with 56 goals. Her incredible performance, ability to push herself and her team to new heights, and determination to stay at the top of her sport is why she is this year’s WSF Team Sportswoman of the Year.
Steffens has dreamed of being an Olympian since she was a child, and it is no surprise water polo is how she got there. Her father played for the Puerto Rican National Team and collegiately, while her mom is part of an extensive water polo family. Steffens grew up the youngest of four water-polo-playing siblings. Talk about “everybody in the pool,” her direct and extended family have helped fuel her competitive drive and passion for the sport.
Starting out, Steffens’ journey wasn’t easy. The lack of junior leagues where she grew up in Northern California had her playing against girls who were twice her age and size. This was a blessing in disguise as it helped lay the foundation for her to become one of the youngest athletes to compete on the U.S. Women’s National Water Polo Team.
At just 16 years old, she was asked to play in her first Team USA match — a call-up with special significance to her and her family, since she would be playing alongside her sister Jessica, who was already established on the team. The duo went on to play together in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, and Maggie’s Olympic debut did not disappoint. Not only did the team win gold, but she was named MVP, tying a record of 21 goals scored during a single Olympic Games and the most goals scored during a single game.
Following her standout performance, she landed the team captain position, helping the team win gold in the 2016 and 2020 Games. Her leadership skills were on full display in Tokyo, where she helped the team rebound from their first loss in the Olympic Games since 2008 — going on to win four straight games to land at the top of the podium once again. Even more impressive, Steffens did it all with a broken nose, showcasing her unwavering resolve.
Beyond the Olympic Games, Steffens led the U.S. women’s national team to their seventh consecutive title at the FINA World League Super Final in Greece and was named the 2021 FINA Women’s Water Polo Athlete of the Year for the third time in her career (2021, 2014, 2012). She is a member of the Quadruple Gold Club, earning Olympic gold, FINA World Championship gold, FINA World Cup gold and FINA World League gold, an accomplishment only a handful of other athletes have claimed. Collegiately, she competed at Stanford University where she helped the team win three NCAA championships (2017, 2015, 2014) and was named the NCAA tournament MVP in 2017.
Steffens’ passion for her sport is transcending the pool. She is the co-founder and owner of 6-8 sports, a performance analytics company designed to take a data-driven approach to evaluating athletes’ strengths and weaknesses to help them improve over time. She takes pride in her Puerto Rican heritage, and though she has planted roots in Long Beach, Calif., she considers Puerto Rico to be her home. Most recently, she has taken on a GlobalGiving campaign to raise money for those in communities across the country recovering from Hurricane Fiona.
Whether she is scoring goals, setting records or traveling around the world to introduce and inspire young girls and women to play water polo, Steffens’ love for her sport shines bright. She dreams big and plays big up against the shot clock — in and out of the pool — and will go down in history as one of the best to ever play the game.