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Manuleleua hat trick propels Buffs past Ripon
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Ripon goalkeeper Courtney Slamon tries to stop Leah Manuleleua on a breakaway before fouling the Manteca standout. - photo by GARY JENSEN/

RIPON — There was nothing that Manteca did that surprised Jamie DeBruyn and his Ripon girls soccer team in Wednesday’s nonleague match between 2015 Sac-Joaquin Section finalists at Stouffer Field.

The Indians expected Manteca’s attack to run through Leah Manuleleua, and DeBruyn repeatedly instructed his defenders to keep an eye on the Buffaloes’ all-time leading scorer.

Easier said than done.

Manuleleua helped Manteca shake off a rusty start and scored a hat trick in a 4-1 victory. 

“We’ve played them the last couple of years so we know what she can do. We know how she plays,” DeBruyn said. “They look for her — that’s their sparkplug. She moves into space very well, so we wanted to make sure we had someone on her at all times. We started shadowing her at first and we kind of went away from that, but this gives us a good idea how to defend someone of that nature.”

Manuleleua and Manteca (4-1) had opportunities to open up a wider lead, outshooting the Indians (3-3), 24-6. Ripon goalie Courtney Slamon came through with big saves and finished with 11, but she helped Manuleleua complete the hat trick by tripping her up in the penalty box on a 1-on-1 situation. Manuleleua converted on the penalty kick in the 61st minute to cap the final score.

“She’s a good player,” Manteca coach Justin Coenenberg said. “She’s going to draw man marks and double teams all season long. It’s something we have to get used to. When she’s not able to beat those double teams we’re in a position to capitalize on the space we get in other areas because of that.”

Manteca thoroughly dominated the second half after a slow start, holding Ripon without a shot attempt. It was all Indians out the outset, however. Ripon scored first with Megan Harlan’s corner kick that was deflected into the Manteca net just 3 minutes into the contest. 

 “We played five games last week, so I gave them a little break and this was our first time out since (Saturday) and our touches were a little bit off,” Coenenberg said. “Also, this (grass) is like playing on (artificial) turf, and we don’t have a whole lot of experience playing on turf. Once we kind of settled down and adapted we started to do fine.”

Kaitlynn Funsch tied the score with a penalty kick after she was fouled inside the box in the 25th minute. Manteca took the lead for good 3 minutes later, with Natalia Duran and Jocelyn Reyes combining for the assist on a breakaway goal from Manuleleua. She tallied her second goal in the 55th minute on another 1-on-1 try.

Ripon had a chance to tie it at 2-2 on the final play of the first half, but Cindy Alvarez’s header off Harlan’s corner-kick cross was shot wide of the left post.

Despite the loss, DeBruyn was encouraged by his team’s effort against top-caliber program from a larger school. 

“I can’t complain,” he said. “We had some ideas coming in and I thought we executed for the most part. I told the girls at halftime that the difference in the second half is going to be who makes the least amount of mistakes. (Manteca) asserted themselves in the second half and we made a couple of mistakes there defensively that they capitalized on. But I thought we tangled with them well, especially in the first half.”