Senior captains who are both 2019 all-conference and All-Press picks are the â€śAthlete of the Weekâ€ť honorees for area high school sports. They are Rebecca Bender of the Bristol Eastern girls volleyball team and Luke Hines of the St. Paul boys soccer team.
Bender, the daughter of Brian and Wendy Bender, is a three-year starter for the Lancers at the libero position. Bristol Eastern was ranked No. 1 in the entire state at one point nearing the end of the season.Â
â€śIt was a great season,â€ť Bender said. â€śI learned a lot about me as a player and me as a person. Iâ€™m really thankful for my coach and teammates for pushing me to get better every day. We made it to the quarterfinals, but weâ€™re not content with that. It broke my heart, it really did.â€ť
Eastern has been one of the stronger programs in the state the past two decades and this yearâ€™s group was hoping to go all the way. The Lancers have a number of returning standouts for next year, but have slots to fill from graduation. One is those positions is Benderâ€™s.
â€śIâ€™m a defensive specialist,â€ť Bender said. â€śI set up the play with passes to the setter for them to set up hitters for the kill. I like the leadership behind it because I lead the defense on the team. Itâ€™s not a glorious position, but I like seeing my pass go to a kill in scoring points.â€ť
And while filling this position, Bender led the 2019 Lancers with 298 digs and 426 received balls. She also added 43 aces to her resume.
With her volleyball career now over, Bender looks back and said she benefited from playing the sport.
â€śItâ€™s taught me discipline,â€ť Bender said. â€śI formed lifelong friendships. I learned how to be a leader and how to gain respect from other people.â€ť
Benderâ€™s plans for next year do not include volleyball, but studying biomedical engineering in college.Â
Hines, the son of Michael and Beth Hines, played as a center-midfielder for St. Paul and is on the defense end for AJAX Premier coach Leszek Wrona. The Falcons were ranked 14th going into the Class M tournament under second-year coach Victor Lira, losing to Bolton in the first round.
â€śLuke is a great player, very skilled with a lot of potential,â€ť Lira said. â€śHe was a key player to many goals opportunities. He has a strong right foot and heâ€™s very quick as well. He knows the game well.â€ť
Overall, Hines said he enjoyed his senior season.
â€śI think we performed pretty well,â€ť Hines said. â€śWe didnâ€™t meet our goal of winning the state championship, of course, but we made it to both the NVL and state championships. I believe the other seniors and I left the program in good shape for the next few years.â€ť
In getting to where he is today, Hines started playing the sport at a young age.
â€śI started when I was four or five years old,â€ť Hines said. â€śThat was with the Bristol Soccer Club with Leszek Wrona. It was my favorite thing to watch with my brother playing sports. I enjoyed it, thatâ€™s why I stuck with it. I enjoy it, because itâ€™s outside and you play all year-round. I also like how it developed me as a person. Also, Iâ€™ve developed many friendships with kids out of town.â€ť
Another positive from playing is his mentors, Lira and Wrona,
â€śCoach Lira started with the [St. Paul] program when I was a junior,â€ť Hines said.â€ťI didnâ€™t get the development piece from him, but he did teach me how to lead.
â€śLeszek Wrona really developed me as a player. Not only skill, but a lot of soccer I.Q. Growing up at Leszekâ€™s, it was another father figure to look up to. He taught us - our team, especially - if we work very hard weâ€™d be successful.â€ť
Which he and his AJAX teammates have been. After winning the State Cup, they went on to beat the No. 6 ranked premier team in the nation at the New England Regionals.
â€śThat has been the highlight of my career,â€ť Hines said.
His plans right now are to study political science in college while also playing soccer for the school.