Justin Coenenberg was slack-jawed the first time he saw the freshman with the tongue-twisting last name and deft touch.
The Manteca girls soccer coach believes Cal State East Bay fans will have the same reaction in the fall.
Sialei Manuleleua is headed to Hayward, where she’ll join a soccer program looking for an infusion of talent and wins.
Manuleleua signed her national letter of intent on Wednesday evening, hustling from the practice field to the library for a presentation with family, friends and administrators.
With a dash of her pen, the fourth-year varsity starter accepted a partial scholarship to play for the Pioneers. She joins a recruiting class that also includes East Union’s Kianna Lamont.
In all, three area soccer players signed with California Collegiate Athletic Association programs on Wednesday. Ripon’s Tia Sidtikun will play for Cal State Monterey Bay.
“From the get go, when Sialei came in as a freshman, she had an immediate impact on the team,” Coenenberg said. “She is a dynamic, versatile player.
“I really believe she’s an immediate impact player at the next level. She could have gone to other places and pursued other options, but she visited the campus and loved it there.”
Manuleleua, a member of the Manteca Futbol Club with a 3.33 grade-point average, did have options.
She says she was also courted by Sacramento State and UC Merced, but only Cal State East Bay expressed interest in her as a midfielder.
The others, she said, had expressed a desire to turn her into a defender.
The Pioneers, however, will give her a chance to create.
Cal State East Bay lost 11 of its last 16 games after winning the first two games of 2011-12 season by a combined score of 10-2. The team finished 6-11-1 and 2-11-1 in California Collegiate Athletic Association play, pushing a few of the conference’s top teams to the brink in defeat.
The Pioneers lost to eventual CCAA Tournament champion and South Division winner UC San Diego 3-2 in double overtime and dropped a pair of 1-0 nail-biters to nationally ranked Cal State Stanislaus.
“When I told my friends that I was considering East Bay, they were like ‘Oh, they’re not the best team in the league.’ To me, it wasn’t about playing for the best team. I wanted to play somewhere that was close and I wanted to play the position I play,” Manuleleua said. “Cal State East Bay was the best team for me.”
The Pioneers land a player with a masterful feel for the ball and flow of the game.
Manuleleua led the Buffaloes with 12 goals and 11 assists last spring, despite playing out of her comfort zone. An injury to striker Sammie Morris forced Coenenberg’s hand.
He had to take his best facilitator and ask her to become a finisher.
She responded with a season worthy of all-Valley Oak League first-team honors.
“She’s one of those players that will do anything for you,” Coenenberg said.
“As far as physically, she’s so talented; best footwork of any girls player I’ve ever coached. She’s able to make things happen on the field through her creativity.
“She wanted to go somewhere she could have an immediate impact,” he added, “so I think Cal State East Bay is a perfect fit for her.”