As the pair gets set to add to Cal's medal count, CalBears.com contributing writer PJ Brown talked to Windes leading up to the games and shares this feature with the former Golden Bear standout.
Team player. The ultimate team player someone who thinks of the team first and foremost and is not focused on individual accolades. We hear this term a lot, team player, and when we come across those who truly define this word, we need to step back and notice.
Elsie Windes, Cal alum and U.S. women's Olympic water polo player, definitely falls into the category of team player. Recently when asked a few times about her individual play and contributions, Windes quickly changed the conversation to focus on her team.
"I love the team aspect, it's why I have stuck with water polo," Windes commented. "Your teammates are with you for the long swim sets and push you through the grueling hours of training. It's who you compete for and they keep it fun. It is a lot of fun. We lean on each other. They get me in gear and vice versa. We are there to support each other."
Even when talking about her first Olympic moment - the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the hard loss in the gold medal game - her thoughts were of her team. The U.S. was down 4-0 in the first quarter to the Netherlands, rallied to tie it 8-8 in the fourth, and with 26 seconds left the Dutch scored the game winner.
"It was hard because we just lost the game and you don't want to think you just lost the gold," said Windes. "We won the silver. It was a special moment for our team. To be part of U.S. water polo with its long history of winning medals. It is so special to be part of that. To have the opportunity to compete in the Olympics is quite an experience.
"You always want to play your best against the best in the world," continued Windes. "The Olympics are where the best are. It is an amazing experience. It's what I dreamed of as a little kid. For me, the 2008 Opening Ceremonies was special...to be part of the Olympic movement, hearing the USA chants, following our flag, and seeing the other flags. It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. It was special to enjoy it with my family and friends."
At Cal Windes was a three-time All-American. She scored 23 goals in 18 matches in her senior year and finished her career with 147 goals. In 2004, she was an honorable mention All-American - Cal's first true freshman to receive the honor.
"Cal was a perfect fit for me," said Windes. "It's a great school, we had a great team, and we have great athletics. Unfortunately, I haven't had the chance to go back since I graduated. I moved down to southern California to train for the Olympics, then I went to Beijing, then I played professionally in Greece and Italy. This year has been crazy. Hopefully, I will make it back for a football game this fall. I am getting married in September and I'd like to bring my fiancé (Ian Wenger) to a game and show him all the Berkeley spots."
Coming into the 2012 Olympics, Team USA is ranked sixth in the world after its finish at the World Championships, but seems to be peaking at the right time. With four tune-up matches against Hungary up and down the California coast, Team USA won all four matches and Windes scored goals in three out of the four contests.
"It's been good to play these matches," said Windes. "We played one game at Stanford and it was awesome. It was a sellout, and we have great fans here. It's inspiring to play in front of our fans before we go to London. One game was televised and that doesn't happen too often for us. It gave friends and family a chance to see us before we take off for London."
Those pre-Olympic matches weren't the only games against international competition Team USA has played this year. After qualifying for the Olympics by winning the gold medal at the Pan American Games in November, 2011 (Windes scored four goals during the Pan Ams), Team USA has taken long trips abroad getting games in.
"We were able to see the Olympic venue in a test event, "she said. "We saw the Olympic Park, the locker room. We got to play games in front of big crowds. It gave us a chance to visualize what it will look like...one less surprise for us at the Olympics. The facility is new. It was just built for water polo and it will be taken down after the Olympics. It is similar to the Stanford pool - just a great water polo venue."
The USA National Team has now trained together for the past year and has only one focus - a gold medal in London.
"You always want to go for the gold...for our families and for the team," said Windes. "But, we have to take it one match at a time and take opportunities as they come. We can't look too far ahead...we need to focus on the match at hand."
Spoken like a true team player, USA Olympian and Cal Alumnae Elsie Windes.
Follow PJ Brown on Twitter @PJBrown09 and her blog Roaming The Sidelines