Very little came overnight for Brielle Leon. Learning to bend the ball into the back of the net took years. Perfecting the chip shot and knuckleball about the same. It’s hard to fathom that now.
They’ve all become a part of her vast repertoire. The all-time leading scorer at La Quinta High School, Leon was playing defense just three years ago. She’s since forged a reputation as the valley’s most dangerous offensive weapon.
And in that time, Leon has helped turn La Quinta into a soccer powerhouse. Before she arrived, the Blackhawks hadn’t ever made it beyond the first round of the playoffs. Last year, she took them to the semifinals. Now, during her senior year before she heads off to play at Michigan State University, La Quinta is the top seed in the CIF Southern Section Division V playoffs.
But getting to this point — moving from one side of the field to the other — wasn’t a fairytale. Far from it.
“Transitioning was really weird,” Leon said. “It didn’t come easy.”
Leon, a four-year starter, was a defender since the day she was born. It was a part of her. She only ventured to the other side as part of a coaching experiment during her club season with Desert United the year prior to her freshman season at La Quinta.
During her first year at La Quinta, Leon returned to her comfort zone. She started at outside right back on the defensive line, partially because that was where she was familiar and partially out of necessity.
“We needed more speed in the back,” La Quinta head coach Bob Quattlebaum said. “I needed someone who was a hard-nosed, tough player, and pound-for-pound, there’s not too many players as tough as she is.”
But her natural abilities were evident, and with the departure of several seniors, Quattlebaum eventually decided to move Leon to striker for her sophomore season.
“With her speed and quickness, and the ability to create — she has an offensive mind — it was kind of a no-brainer to move her,” Quattlebaum said. “Once she got up on the front line, it was her natural position.”
Still, the transition was a struggle. Learning the nuances of the new position took time and a lot of mental energy. She was trying to make up for lost time, figuring out a position other players had been playing their entire lives.
As a sophomore, Leon led the team in scoring with 16 goals despite her struggles. She upped that number to 26 as a junior. In less than two years on offense, she broke the program’s scoring record.
This year, she has 28 goals, despite constant double- and triple-teams.
“They definitely double Brielle all the time,” sophomore forward Kailee Prescott said earlier this season. “And that just opens things up for the rest of us, making us a much more dangerous team.”
During her growth as a player, Leon said she used her time as a defender to develop her offensive game. For years, she studied great offensive players and picked up some of the tips and tricks to becoming one herself.
Because of her background, she’s not the prototypical striker, with a scorer’s mentality. As a defender, she learned how to share the ball, to buy into the team construct. It has translated to the offensive side of the ball.
Over three seasons, Leon has 36 assists.
“She doesn’t care who scores, she just wants to win,” said Bridge Leon, Brielle’s dad. “She tells me her most important stat is a team win.”
That much was evident Friday afternoon in a 4-0 win against Lakeside in the first round of the CIF-SS playoffs.
Leon dribbled the ball down the right side of the field, drawing three defenders with her before she fired the ball across the field to midfielder Stephanie Esquivel for the game’s first goal. Quattlebaum later touted that as the mark of a mature player.
“My dad used to tell me, ‘One day it’ll just click. It’ll come together and you’ll have that forward mentality,’ ” Leon said. “And I feel like this year and last year, it finally has.”
There’s just one more thing Leon wants to accomplish in soccer while in high school: Win a CIF title. No girls’ team at La Quinta has won CIF in any sport.
Leon has her squad in a position to be the ones who can do it. She’s far removed from the struggles of two years ago. It didn’t come overnight, but the hard work has paid off and the opportunity is finally here.
“That would pretty much be the icing on the cake,” she said.