Jenna Villanueva already had her eyes set on Cal State East Bay, a school that’s close, has a competitive NCAA Division II soccer team and offers her field of study.
Then in the spring of 2019, Pioneers coaches put the attacking midfielder on their watch list. The Sierra senior caught their attention while competing in the Las Vegas Players Showcase with the Livermore Fusion SC.
“I did some research on the school and they have my major,” Villanueva said. She plans on studying illustration and animation. “It was one of the schools I was looking at, so when (the coaches) approached me I was super excited.”
Villanueva is one of two area athletes — both Sierra girls soccer players — who inked letters of intent for the fall signing period Wednesday. Teammate Tiana Cello signed with San Jose State, and they plan to hold a small gathering to celebrate the occasion on Friday.
“We’ve been playing with each other since freshman year,” Villanueva said. “My favorite memory is making the varsity team with her and us bonding ever since. Now we get to sign on the same day.”
Both were committed to their future schools before the onset of the coronavirus lockdown back in March. Sierra captured a fourth straight Valley Oak League championship and finished 24-2 in the 2019-20 winter season, reaching the semifinal round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs.
Villanueva made the All-VOL first team for the first time after racking up 27 goals and 19 assists. She previously made honorable mention and the all-league second team while playing more of a box-to-box midfield role her first two seasons when she totaled seven goals and 11 assists.
Villanueva said she was recruited as a forward and attacking midfielder. Cal State East Bay went 5-6-1 in the California Collegiate Athletic Association last year and 6-9-3 overall.
“I thought the program was really cool when I went on my official visit,” she said. “I got to watch them play and saw their playing style, which really fit my playing style. Their field is beautiful and the campus is really nice to look at while walking around. Overall, I felt it was a really good fit for me.”
Villanueva got to reunite with some familiar faces on her visit, including former Ripon Christian star Abby Buitrago, now a senior for the Pioneers. They know each other from their time with the Manteca Futbol Club.
“Unfortunately, I won’t get to play with her but it was really cool seeing her and meeting the rest of the team,” Villanueva said.
San Jose State, Pacific and Loyola Marymount were other schools she considered before committing to Cal State East Bay at the start of her junior year.
“I’m looking forward to playing another four more years,” Villanueva said. “I know a lot of people don’t get the chance to do so. I just love soccer. I’m thankful for all the coaches and teams I’ve played for — they helped mold me into the player and person I am today.”