The Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League coaches announced its all division teams for the fall sports season and two athletes from Kearny — Alejandro Alvarado and Gigi Arenas — were selected as Player of the Year in their respective sports.
For Arenas, a junior, it is the second time she has been named HCIAL American Division Player of the Year. It wasn’t an honor she was necessarily expecting to receive this fall because she was unable to participate in the Hudson County Girls Tennis Individual Tournaments.
“When my coach told me I gasped,” Arenas said. “I started crying and I had no words at all.”
A little more than a month ago, Arenas was crying tears of sorrow when a sprained right thumb forced her to withdraw from the First Singles championships in which she was the top seed.
“I felt a strong pain in my thumb and I thought it was nothing, I thought I hit my thumb with a racket when I was playing a match,” Arenas said of the injury, which happened a few days after competing in the state tournament. “Then I went home and I couldn’t move it. It started throbbing and I couldn’t feel my thumb and I was getting scared.
“I was devastated, I was frustrated because I had trained the whole year for that specific moment and to realize I was the No. 1 seed of the tournament and I just couldn’t play, was heart-breaking.”
Prior to her injury, Arenas went a perfect 11-0 against Hudson County competition. Not only did she not lose a single set, only once did she only drop two games in a set during those matches.
As a freshman, Arenas went undefeated in the county to earn Player of the Year honors, but there wasn’t an individuals’ tournament that year. Nor was there one her sophomore year when she dropped just one match against county competition.
Arenas’ teammate, Renata Bystrowski, earned First Team honors at Second Singles after winning the Hudson County Second Singles Tournament.
Arenas enters her senior season with one goal in mind — to win the championship she was unable to play for this year.
“I’m very confident because I know that without any injuries, with the hard work and determination that I can win the Hudson County Tournament and prove to everyone that I deserve to be Hudson County Player of the Year,” Arenas said. “I know next year’s going to be my year.”
While Arenas still has more to add to her legacy at Kearny High School, Alejandro Alvarado sealed his as one of the best strikers in recent memory for the legendary program.
In his first year as a starter, Alvarado scored 24 goals, second most in Hudson County, to go with six assists to be named HICAL American Division Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
As a junior, Alvarado came off the bench and thrived in the role, scoring 15 goals as part of a loaded Kardinals roster that won the Hudson County and Group 4 state titles. This season, however, he was the main focus of all opposing defenses. It was a role he embraced.
“It was definitely a lot of pressure. A lot of the seniors graduated and we lost a big part of our attack so there was a lot of pressure,” Alvarado said. “We got doubted by many and we had to prove people wrong and we kinda did. I had to take a big role, step up and I thought I did a pretty good job of doing that.”
Alvarado quickly thrived in his new role, scoring at least one goal in each of Kearny’s first nine games. He had at least one point in the Kardinals’ first 11 contests.
“When I was on that streak, I just got very confident,” said Alvarado. “It gave me a lot of motivation to keep going throughout the season and keep scoring and scoring to lift the team up.”
During the Hudson County Tournament, Alvarado recorded a hat trick in the semifinals against Harrison, then scored two more goals in the final against Union City at Red Bull Arena. Alvarado added two more goals in the state tournament, including the lone goal in the North 1, Group 4 quarterfinals over Livingston.
Four of Alvarado’s teammates – Johan Baez, Alex Cruz, Nico Gomez and Hans Zoller – joined him on the first team. In addition, Bill Galka was named HCIAL American Division Coach of the Year after leading the Kardinals to a 17-1-1 record and a second straight undefeated season in the league.
Because the Kearny girls’ soccer team plays an independent schedule, its players are not eligible for the HCIAL’s league awards.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)