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Leah in action playing with Samoa National Team

Goal-Getter: Leah Manuleleua's Journey to Soccer Success

Celebrating Women in Sports and Cultural Heritage

In celebration of Women in Sports Day in February, and March’s Women’s History Month, this story highlights a Manteca High alumna’s journey as she seized a rare chance to represent her ancestral country on the global soccer stage.

Apia Park

On the lush tropical Island of Samoa, Manteca High alum Leah Manuleleua made the most of a once in a lifetime opportunity – competing for the Samoan national soccer team in an Olympic qualifier tournament!

“When she called me and let me know about the opportunity she had, I could not have been more excited for her,” recalled Manteca High girls soccer coach Justin Coenenberg. Leah was a standout player at MHS who led the Buffaloes to their first section championship in 2016 and still holds the school record for goals scored during a player’s high school career.

The offer to join the Samoa National Team was a complete surprise to Leah. Though she had continued her soccer success at Delta College and earned her nursing degree at South Dakota State University on full-ride athletic scholarship, Leah had not been able to commit to a competitive soccer team since her college graduation.

Leah with Samoa National Team

“I just felt so grateful to have this opportunity to play again after all these years,” Leah shared. “Soccer gives me a sense of fulfillment, and I missed playing and competing at this level.”

While she had not been playing on an organized team, Leah did not give up on her passion. Working around her nursing career, Leah kept in shape by running, doing CrossFit, and playing indoor soccer. Coach Coenenberg acknowledged that while Leah had been the hardest working player on his team, her success hinged on more than just her fitness level. “Aside from [fitness], it was her heart and determination that allowed her to not only compete but be a major contributor on the team.”

Months of increased training culminated in February when she appeared in the women’s soccer Olympic Oceania Qualifier tournament where Samoa, among other teams, was attempting to qualify their squad to the 2024 Olympics. While Samoa was knocked out during the semifinal round, Leah is beyond grateful for the amazing opportunity.

“Playing for the Samoan national team was such a great experience!” Leah stated. “I got to travel to Samoa and meet some of my family for the first time, eat the freshest food from the lands, and meet people from all over the world. It was very special getting to see where both of my dad’s parents were born and grew up, where all our roots began.”

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