Leah Manuleleua never envisioned herself going out of state for college, but a full-ride scholarship offer from a competitive NCAA Division I soccer program was too hard to pass up.
On Thursday, Manteca High’s most prolific goal scorer made it official when she signed her letter of intent to play for South Dakota State.
“I never considered going out of state, so I wanted to get a feel for the campus and the area before committing,” Manuleleua said. “Last week my mom and I visited and it was definitely not what I expected. We really liked it, and they have a really good program for my major (nursing).”
Manuleleua hoped to latch on with a four-year university after graduating from Manteca in 2016. She was in talks with Pacific, but any hope of playing for the Stockton school was dashed by a coaching change.
Manuleleua wound up at nearby Delta College and helped the Mustangs (15-6-4) reach the third round of the California Community College Athletic Association. The relentless striker picked up where she left off from her outstanding senior campaign with Manteca, finishing with the second most points scored (53) in the Big 8 Conference with 21 goals and 11 assists. She was also named to the California Community Colleges Soccer Coaches Northern California All-Region Team.
“It was actually a good experience for me,” Manuleleua said of starting at the JUCO level. “It helped me progress as a person and a player. It’s different from high school but the same game. I had a good season and we went pretty far so that was good. I also got to play with a lot of my former teammates and rivals from club and high school teams.
“I could have stayed another year at Delta, but (signing with South Dakota State) was a good opportunity for me and my family,” Manuleleua said. “My parents don’t have to worry about my tuition, room and board and stuff like that.”
South Dakota State not only gets a productive forward in Manuleleua but also a proven winner. She’s a two-time All-Valley Oak League MVP and helped Manteca capture its first Sac-Joaquin Section title her senior year. She had a state-leading 45 goals for the spring season and is the Buffaloes’ career record holder with 116.
Manuleleua was recruited by first-year South Dakota State head coach Brock Thompson, who was promoted to his new position in January after serving as an assistant for nine years. The Jackrabbits went 10-7-3 overall last fall, claimed a third straight Summit League Tournament title and advanced to the NCAA College Cup.
“I want to help the team out any way I can,” Manuleleua said. “I hope to not only take advantage of the opportunity soccer-wise and reach my full potential, but also career-wise and really make good use of their nursing program.”