JONESBORO — Yajaira Alvarado believes the Jonesboro Lady Hurricane surprised some observers with its success during the 2021 soccer season.
Jonesboro, which did not qualify for the state tournament in 2019, put together a 14-4-1 record and finished second behind eventual state champion Searcy in the 5A-East conference. The Lady Hurricane won its state tournament opener before losing a close game in the quarterfinals.
“I was really happy with the outcome that we had because when we started, nobody really thought we would get so far, but we all grew up together and helped each other out,” Alvarado said. “I think we had a very good season. We got our respect back.”
Alvarado, the Best Under The Sun Newcomer of the Year, certainly earned plenty of respect during her sophomore season.
Scoring in 15 of Jonesboro’s 19 contests, Alvarado finished the season with 46 goals. She also assisted on 14 goals while scoring 106 total points on the season.
“She’s a great player,” Jonesboro coach J.D. Williams said of Alvarado, who was an all-state and all-state tournament selection. “She was able to move around for us a little bit. We tried to play her in a couple of different roles, played in the midfield, played up front for us, played out on the wing.
“She’s definitely a player who still has room to grow. She has a lot of talent and she works really hard at the abilities and skills she has, but there are definitely areas of her game where she is able to improve and she wants to do that. She’s definitely somebody who is scary moving forward for all the teams we’re going to be playing.”
After playing in only two games as a freshman in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Alvarado gave opponents reason to be wary in 2021.
Alvarado had three games with double-digit points on a combination of goals and assists. She scored seven goals and assisted on two more in an 11-0 victory over Nettleton, the number of goals not known to Alvarado or her teammates until they started counting them afterward.
“We were all shocked I made seven goals,” Alvarado said. “After I went to go look at the goals that I scored, I was like, ‘Wow.’ And they weren’t easy goals, they were good goals, and I was surprised I made those seven goals.”
Alvarado also had six goals against West Memphis and four each in three other contests.
Williams said Alvarado started the season as more of a distributor in a midfield role. As the season progressed, he said, she moved up the pitch as a striker.
“I think it was a little bit of a surprise just how well she did. Everyone knew she was going to do well,” Williams said. “Obviously for me, coming into my first year with the team and everybody being new to me at the time, my expectations were built off what of what I could see from day one. I definitely think she was expected to be a big member of the team, but I don’t know that everybody expected her to be quite as dominant as she was throughout the conference.”
Alvarado’s expectations were based on team objectives, not her own goals and assists.
“I just really wanted to get to state, and I knew from getting to know all the girls and how they played, we would be able to get to state,” she said. “To get past the first round, I was like, ‘Wow, this is a really good team, this can be our chance.’ Getting past the first round really made an impact, made us think, ‘We can actually do this.’ Yes, we went out in the second round, but I still think we did a very, very good job.”
Alvarado scored two goals, including the game-winner, and also had an assist in Jonesboro’s 3-2 overtime victory over Sylvan Hills in the first round of the Class 5A state tournament. She suffered an ankle injury in the Lady Hurricane’s 1-0 loss to Greenbrier in the quarterfinals.
Jonesboro will look to return to state with Alvarado and others back in the lineup in 2022.
“I feel like since we know we can make it to state, we’re going to have even higher expectations to make it to state again,” she said. “It’s going to be some of our good players’ last year and they’re going to be trying even harder to get to state and trying to win, and I will want to win for them because they make a really big impact on our team and I would want them to leave knowing they did something with our team.”