Boys Soccer – 2018 SSN Player of the Year: Anthony Arena, Holmdel
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Like any player in his final year, Anthony Arena and his fellow seniors on the Holmdel boys soccer team wanted to “leave their legacy” – rallying cry for the Holmdel program over the last four year years – in their final season of high school soccer.
The only problem was that legacy might have already been left in 2017, when Arena scored a staggering 36 goals and 25 assists in leading the Hornets to a 22-1-1 record, a Shore Conference Tournament title and an NJSIAA Group II championship.
Instead of authoring a new legacy in 2018, Arena and his fellow seniors simply added to their already-established one by going 22-0-1 with a second straight Group II championship and a No. 1 finish in both the Shore Conference, according to Shore Sports Network, as well as the state, according to NJ.com.
Arena’s final stats were barely 50 percent of his junior year totals, but he posted his 18 goals and 13 assists this season despite missing six games and his fellow all-state forward from 2017 in Justin McStay. Arena also rose to the occasion in big games and, for the second straight year, distinguished himself as the Shore Sports Network Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
Just as he did a year ago, Arena got off to another fast start in 2018 with four goals and three assists in his team’s first two games. That torrid pace, however, was halted in Holmdel’s third game when Arena hobbled off the field in the first with a hamstring injury. The ailment forced him to miss six games and he was very limited in action vs. Manasquan and Christian Brothers Academy – both SSN Top 10 teams than Arena suited up to play against despite being less than 100 percent. Arena scored a goal in the 2-1 win over Manasquan and assisted his team’s third goal against CBA despite playing in limited minutes in both games.
Holmdel managed to go 6-0 with Arena sidelined and also won the three games in which he was limited, but the difference between Holmdel with a healthy Anthony Arena and without was measurable. In those nine games in which Arena was injured or limited, Holmdel averaged 2.67 goals per game. In the other 14, the Hornets averaged 4.57.
Although Holmdel earned its No. 1 seeds in both the Shore Conference and Group II Tournaments largely without Anthony Arena, the Hornets likely could not have won another Group II title without him. After Holmdel crushed its four Central Jersey Group II opponents by a combined total of 27-1, the team found itself in a dogfight with Delran in the Group II semifinal. With the score tied at 1-1 near the midway point of the second half, Arena delivered the go-ahead goal and the Hornets went on to beat the Bears, 2-1, to reach another Group II final.
In the championship game against unbeaten Glen Rock, Arena was denied in the first minute of the game, but assisted Jack Giamanco’s equalizer late in the first half. The All-American later added one of his own on sinking strike from the top of the 18-yard box – fittingly enough the final goal of Holmdel’s historic two-year run.
Holmdel had three other players who with a case to be the Player of the Year in the Shore Conference. Anthony’s cousin, Joe, was voted by the Monmouth County coaches as the Player of the Year in the County for his unrelenting work-rate and steadfast leadership in Holmdel’s midfield. That vote took place before Anthony Arena’s strong finish to the season, but Joe Arena built a compelling case even factoring in his cousin’s surge at the end of the season.
Giamanco, meanwhile, was Holmdel’s leading scorer with 23 goals and 10 assists during his breakout junior season and was instrumental in picking up the scoring slack while Anthony Arena recovered from his hamstring injury. While Arena posted six goals and five assists during a memorable postseason run, Giamanco was right there with him, racking up seven goals and three assists.
Senior defender Jack Russo was unmatched by other defenders in the Shore Conference when it came to being a two-way player. The St. John’s commit was a lock-down defender and also contributed heavily in the offense with six goals and eight assists on the year. He also came through during the most important stretch of the season, scoring three goals in the Group II Playoffs and assisting one goal in each of Holmdel’s six state tournament wins.
In the end though, Anthony Arena has been the standout talent in the Shore Conference over the past two seasons and has the numbers and accolades to back it up. He finished as Holmdel’s all-time leading goal-scorer with 65 goals in three varsity seasons. In three years, Arena was a standout tournament performer, scoring 25 goals and dishing out 19 assists in 25 postseason games between the Shore Conference and Group II Tournaments.
Before heading to Monmouth University in the fall, Arena will be one of two players to represent New Jersey in the High School All-American game this Saturday, Dec. 1 in Orlando. That will be among the final individual accolades to grace Arena and his career, but the most important number to stamp his career and the careers of senior teammates Joe Arena, Russo, Torre Avitabile, Jack Murray, Mark McStay, Ryan Ferguson, Peter Vassilakos and Henry Kiechlen will be the number one: No. 1 at the Shore for the second straight year and No. 1 in the state for the first time ever.