Manuleleua looks to leave legacy in SDSU soccer


Garrett Satterly, Sports Reporter

In 19 regular season games this season, the South Dakota State women’s soccer team found the back of the net 28 times—10 of those goals came off the cleats of Leah Manuleleua.

The senior forward has been key in the Jackrabbits’ success. She’s scored the lone goal in six of the Jacks 14 wins.

Goal scoring has become Manuleleua’s calling-card, but it isn’t something she’s had to practice.

“I feel like it comes so much more natural than I realize,” she said. “I was thinking about the goalie the other day. I wasn’t even looking up, I could just see her from my tunnel vision. It’s just a natural instinct to shoot and try to score.”

But Manuleleua’s talent didn’t initially land the California native in Brookings.

Manuleleua grew up in Mati, California, with her two brothers, one sister and her parents. She started soccer in middle school but hasn’t always played forward—this change came during her junior year of high school.

To start her collegiate career, Manuleleua played a season for San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California. During this season she was approached by an opponent coach, who had heard from SDSU’s head coach Brock Thompson that he needed a forward.

It was a tough decision for Manuleleua, but she made the switch to become a Jackrabbit in 2017.

“I got recruited from one of Brock’s friends,” Manuleleua said. “Brock was talking to him (about) how he needed a forward, and then he had given him my contact info.”

In her three years of Division I soccer, Manuleleua has been named all-conference twice and is on her way to earning the title for a third time.

On top of that, she has scored over 20 goals for the Jacks, placing her in the top five in school history. Along with goals, Manuleleua has 10 assists, 149 shots and has played over 3,000 minutes on the pitch.

Her production isn’t an accident. She was a goal scorer before battling through injuries and has continued to be elite at finding the back of the net, leading the Summit League in goals this season.

“She is very professional in how she approaches training and very confident in what her ability is,” Thompson said. “I think the biggest thing for her is she made it a little bit simpler and focused on giving her best effort and having a great attitude. In the end, I think that is a really important key to her production.”

Though accomplishments have piled up during her time in Brookings, Manuleleua recognizes the role her teammates have played in her success.

“I definitely think it is everyone … helping me,” Manuleleua said. It wouldn’t be possible without having good midfielders, other good forwards, Maggie as a great keeper and great defenders.”

However, being a student-athlete while pursuing a degree in nursing comes with its ups and downs. She specifically expressed the struggle of traveling for away games.

“We leave, I miss class and we don’t get home until 2 a.m.,” Manuleleua said. “Then I have a clinical all day following. (There’s a) time management aspect … being able to be on the road and do homework but still be able to hang out with teammates.”

Manuleleua’s favorite aspect of being a Jackrabbit is the connections she’s made with teammates, coaches and community members. Those same people who have made her time in Brookings special also realize the special talent and person wearing No. 11.

“Leah is incredible,” Thompson said. “The thing that I am the proudest of with Leah is I don’t know if we have a teammate that celebrates the success of others with any more excitement and enthusiasm than she does.”

During practice, Thompson talks about leaving a legacy, which is something he knows Manuleleua has worked hard to accomplish since day one.

Through the season Manuleleua’s focus has been having fun and going out on the best note possible. She manages to do this by controlling her attitude and effort. She prepares for games and practices, rather than outcomes, has fun and works hard on leaving her legacy on the pitch.

“We’ve got a number of good attacking players,” Thompson explained. “We talk all the time about leaving a legacy and those that come after Leah will be better because of what she’s done in our program.”

There’s just one part of Manuleleua’s legacy missing.

Despite entering the conference tournament with a top-two seed, the Jacks have fallen short of winning the Summit League each of the past two seasons.

But, Manuleleua and her fellow seniors look to make good on one last opportunity. The Jacks play Oral Roberts in the conference semifinals 6 p.m. Nov. 7, at Fishback Soccer Park. If they win, they’ll play for the conference title Saturday against either Denver or North Dakota.

“I feel like it is definitely different this year since we are seniors,” Manuleleua said. “We really want to go out on the best note possible, so I just feel like we all came with a different mindset mentality. We’re going to get it done this year. We have to—it’s our last year.”