THE NEW STANDARD
Junior Leah Manuleleua has scored a program-record 35 goals and counting. She is also the career record holder with one varsity season left to play. Here’s a look at Manteca High’s top scorers in school history, according to head coach Justin Coenenberg:
Name Career Goals
Leah Manuleleua 68*
Sammie Morris 65
Megan Dei Rossi 58
Maria Trevino 56
Sialei Manuleleua 48
Airenne Curry 39
Lejla Pepic 37*
Jen Dickman 36
Rileigh Mankin 32
* Current players
Before the Rivera sisters exploded on the scene with the force of a three-hit combo, turning East Union into a section heavy, another prolific sister act tormented defenses.
Sialei Manuleleua was a senior at Manteca High when her younger sister arrived on campus.
Even then, Leah Manuleleua was a physical specimen – tall and strong – capable of pushing back against any defender that tried to bully her.
Today, Sia is a sophomore midfielder at Cal State East Bay, cheering on her alma mater as it looks to win its first Sac-Joaquin Section soccer championship.
The third-seeded Buffaloes, who have come away from three finals appearances (2004-05, 2014) empty handed, will open the Division III tournament tonight against No. 14 Vallejo at Guss Schmeidt Field.
As for Sia’s kid sister?
Well, Leah Manuleleua, now a junior, is the one leading the hunt.
And she checks in from atop the program’s Mount Rushmore.
Manuleleua has scored a school record 35 goals, anchoring the most potent offense in Manteca High (19-4-1) history. She has passed former teammate Sammie Morris as the program’s all-time leading scorer after nearly doubling her production from a year ago.
“It’s been a pretty amazing season. I really attribute it to the work she put in during the offseason to make herself a better player,” head coach Justin Coenenberg said. “She dedicated herself to not only working on her soccer skills, but she’s come in much more fit. She’s in the gym getting bigger, better, stronger. It’s her passion and desire and want to become a better player that’s made her so successful.
“I always knew she had the potential to be great. It wasn’t like she wasn’t great before. Fourteen goals? Nineteen goals? Those are pretty respectable numbers right there. But she has definitely made herself an elite player around here.”
With a three-pronged offensive attack that also features sophomores Natalia Duran and Lejla Pepic, the Buffaloes have rippled the net 113 times in 24 games.
Pepic has 20 goals and an area-best 24 assists, and Duran has racked up 12 goals and five assists. Each brings their own level of physicality and speed to the offense, but the Buffaloes’ personality mirrors that of Manuleleua’s.
She has tallied the fourth-most goals in the section, according to MaxPreps. She’s tied for 13th nationally among players whose schools compete in the spring.
She has five hat tricks, including a three-goal, three-assist tone-setting performance against Venture/Excel Academy in the season opener. She later had three goals in a 6-0 win over Ripon, the top seed in the Division V tournament.
Though she was held without a point in two matches against state-ranked East Union, the top seed in D-III and defending D-IV champion, Manuleleua has earned the Lancers’ respect as a formidable forward.
“When we’re out there, we’re always making sure someone is on her,” East Union sweeper Mariah Jeffery said. “We can’t leave her by herself or it would be bad.”
Her maturation as a striker has been most impressive to Coenenberg, a seventh-year coach looking for his crown jewel.
Physically, Manuleleua has few equals. She is strong and sturdy, and like an angry Buffalo, she can trample a defender with her straight-ahead burst.
This season, though, she’s shown a softer side, which Coenenberg believes has allowed her to ascend the program’s record books, passing torch bearers like Maria Trevino (56 career goals), Megan Dei Ross (58) former teammate Sammie Morris (65) and her sister Sia (48).
Her delicate touch has befuddled defenses that have prepared for a bull, not a ballerina. The ball sticks to Manuleleua’s foot even as she reaches top speed, allowing her to cutback or weave her way through crowded spaces.
In a 1-0 loss to East Union in their regular-season finale, Manuleleua had an early goal taken off the scoreboard.
Locked in a 1-on-1 battle with Jeffery, Manuleleua appeared to win the ball and cut back against the all-VOL defender.
With the ball on her right foot, Manuleleua slotted a shot past East Union’s Anna Wood to deliver a crushing blow.
Only the goal was disallowed.
The official closest to the play flagged Manuleleua for a push. While the call was questionable, Manuleleua’s power, grace and creativity is not. She also has 16 assists.
“It’s almost like there is Velcro on her foot and ball,” Coenenberg said. “She’s constantly in tight spaces because she’s constantly double- and triple-teamed.
“She can check to the ball, win the ball and go by sometimes two and three players because of her ability to keep the ball close to her foot. Her touch is so phenomenal, but at the same time she can strike the ball with so much power.”
Coenenberg and the Buffaloes hope she can be even better in the second season. Manteca reached the D-III final a season ago. A return trip could pit them against the top-seeded Lancers and their much ballyhooed sister act.
“Being there last year and doing what we did and feeling like we have a chance to win it, from the get go that’s been the girls’ goal,” Coenenberg said, “to put themselves back in position to win a section title.”