Destined to be a legend
Destinee Manzo, ’22 sociology, focuses on the goal of playing pro soccer
For as long as she can remember, sociology alumna Destinee Manzo ’22, has been kicking a soccer ball. “Soccer is like a gateway to peace, therapeutic almost,” she says. “And it pushes me out of my comfort zone, past limits that I’m afraid to go to.”
Soccer took Manzo as far as qualifying for the World Cup in 2020—until the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the games. But returning to Anteater Stadium, she contributed to two record-breaking seasons for the UCI Women’s Soccer program, including back-to-back trips to the NCAA tournament, before earning her bachelor’s in sociology in December 2022.
Now, Manzo has set her sights on a new goal, a dream passed down to her from her grandfather: to play soccer professionally in her family’s home country of Mexico.
A grandfather’s dream
Manzo’s entire family loves soccer—her parents, aunts and uncles, and sister almost never miss a game. But her biggest fan and greatest inspiration is her grandfather, Xavier Manzo. Like millions of fans around the world, he grew up playing soccer in his hometown of Tangamandapio, Mexico, and dreamed of playing professionally.
So many of the huge steps I’ve taken for soccer—wanting to do club level, then play in college, and now wanting to go pro—I do for my grandpa, knowing that he couldn’t. He didn’t even go to high school, much less have the opportunity to go pro.
“So many of the huge steps I’ve taken for soccer – wanting to do club level, then play in college, and now wanting to go pro – I do for my grandpa, knowing that he couldn’t. He didn’t even go to high school, much less have the opportunity to go pro,” she says.
But he did have the opportunity to immigrate to California, providing new opportunities for his children and grandchildren. He encouraged his granddaughter, Destinee, to start playing co-ed soccer when she was just five.
By the time she was a teenager, she had attended the US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program.
“That was the moment when I thought, ‘OK, if I’m going to do this, I need to be dedicated,’” Manzo recalls. “It made everything more real, and I became more disciplined when I was playing.”
Manzo attended Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, where she got on the radar of UCI women’s soccer coach Scott Juniper, who tried to recruit her. But Manzo wanted to spread her wings farther from home, so she accepted a scholarship to play at the University of Portland. Just before leaving for Oregon, she needed reconstructive surgery on her knee, and ended up spending the first months of her college career trying to recover and rehabilitate her knee—while staving off the dreariness of the rainy Pacific Northwest.
Before the end of her first term, she called Juniper.
Looking back now, Juniper says he knew Manzo would make UCI’s team better from day one.
“In games, Destinee is, technically speaking, at the very elite level of the sport,” Juniper says. “Her technical execution is very smooth and precise; she plays to win, has a sharp competitive fire and wants to play her role within the team.”
Over winter break of her freshman year, she moved back home, where she could enjoy family dinners each night and get her laundry done—and play a part in the Anteater’s attack, as a midfield and forward.
We broke so many records, it was insane. Those were some of the greatest moments of my entire life, which I will never forget.
Making UCI history
In 2020, Manzo was invited to play with the Mexico national team—thanks to dual citizenship through her father—in the CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship. After several international games in the Dominican Republic, her team qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the elite international event, and Manzo’s birthday passed, aging her out.
Back in the NCAA, Manzo and her teammates were about to take UCI Women’s Soccer to new heights. For the first time in program history, the team won both the Big West Conference and the Big West Tournament, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for just the second time since 2010. The team upset UCLA in its first game, marking UCI Women’s Soccer’s first win in an NCAA Tournament—but not its last. Although the team didn’t make it past the second round in 2021, they returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2022 after earning the Big West Tournament title for the second year in a row. There, they defeated USC in the first round—with help from a goal by Manzo—and routed Brown University in a nail-biting game that ended with penalty kicks, making it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen.
“We broke so many records, it was insane,” says Manzo. “Those were some of the greatest moments of my entire life, which I will never forget.”
Off the field, Manzo also excelled. Although she had always been an outstanding student, being a scholar athlete made her a pro at time management. Even while she was training with the Mexican national team for four weeks in 2020, she kept up with her courses remotely.
“She is organized, works hard, and wants to be really good at everything she does. Around the team, she has a high-energy, fun, positive outlook kind of personality, and people want to be around her,” Juniper says. “She knows when to laugh and when to focus and I think she was probably much more of a role model for our younger players than she realized.”
Like other students graduating this year, Manzo’s college career was impacted not only by the pandemic, but also by the historic Black Lives Matter movement that followed the murder of George Floyd. Her sociology classes, she says, helped her understand and contextualize these culture-shifting events unfolding around her.
“Sociology changed the way I saw the world in general, and what goes on in our schools, work and life,” she says. “It was intense going to class and learning about these things going on in the world at the time, but I loved it.”
When I was younger, I didn’t think I could do this. But because I was willing to take risks—not only for me, but for my family—I’ve put myself in a place where I’m educated and reaching dreams I never thought I’d be able to reach. I’m living a life that I wish my entire family had the opportunity to live.
A new goal
Manzo has spent time abroad since graduating, where she finds her sociology lens useful, for example witnessing the massive marches for International Women’s Day in Spain, and recognizing the cultural shifts afoot in Europe, as well. Amid a changing world, Manzo’s love of soccer remains steady. She’s been visiting professional teams with the hope of finding one that’s a good fit for her as a person and a player, including training this spring with a Liga MX team. Her grandfather is over the moon.
“I do it for him the most. He’s so excited, I feel like he’s living out his dream within me,” she says.
A dream not just of soccer, but of education and opportunity her grandfather imagined for his entire family when he came to California.
“When I was younger, I didn’t think I could do this,” she says. “But because I was willing to take risks – not only for me, but for my family – I’ve put myself in a place where I’m educated and reaching dreams I never thought I’d be able to reach. I’m living a life that I wish my entire family had the opportunity to live.”
Juniper says Manzo and her entire family, with their enthusiasm and love of the sport, have been a huge part of the UCI team the last few years.
“We will all miss them so much,” says Juniper. “However long Destinee decides she wants to play pro, and whatever she decides to do after that, I have no doubt she will be really successful and always considered a UCI legend.”
- Christine Byrd for UCI Social Sciences