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Got each other’s backs

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BENTON — It’s common to hear athletes describe teammates they’re closest to as siblings since they spend copious amounts of time around each other.

For Benton’s girls soccer team, the term has taken on a whole new meaning. The Tigers sport five sets of sisters — Teaghan and Isabelle Bardua, Riley and Kelsey Heller, Brynn and Sydney Hess, Rhianna and Reagan Hess (no relation to the other Hess sisters) and Taylor and Amber Hughes.

It’s helped create a camaraderie unlike any other coach Bill Pasukinis has seen in his five years leading the team.

“We almost have an entire team of sisters. Even the girls that aren’t related blood-wise are treated like family,” Pasukinis said. “I’ve never encountered the chemistry that we have this year.”

That team chemistry is on display every day, but it didn’t come overnight. Many of the girls have played soccer together since they were 10 years old, getting to learn more about the game and themselves through the years.

“We’ve known each other since we were young,” Teghan Bardua, a sophomore, said. “We play the game the same way because we’ve played so much together since we were little.”

The results show.

Benton has finished the regular season 16-0 and secured the No. 1 seed in the District 4 Class A tournament. Its reward is a home game against Southern Columbia on Wednesday in the quarterfinals.

Not bad for a team, that like everyone else in the state, had no idea if they would get to play at all this season due to the pandemic. Instead of fretting, they turned to the one teammate that they could practice with at any point.

“I relied on my sister (Brynn) a lot, especially because it’s her senior year and she kept me in line,” Sydney Hess, a junior, said. “I think she relied on me a lot to make sure that we were ready for when we had a season.”

Guiding each other

Once the season got underway, Pasukinis saw that each set of sisters took their role seriously, creating a support system that made his job easier.

“The younger sisters really like to see their older sisters succeed in a game and vice versa,” Pasukinis said. “If something happens with one of the sisters, the other sister is often times the most excited of the team.

“The older sisters, they just take the bull by the horns, taking responsibility. They’re motherly figures to the younger girls, making sure they’re always punctual and make sure we don’t forget things. They keep the ducks in a row.”

For goalie Rhianna Hess, a junior, she takes the role of being a mentor and sister seriously, knowing she can make an impact that extends beyond this season.

“I do take it upon myself to almost be in charge of my sister (a freshman),” she said. “When she’s on the field, I’m giving her the best direction that I can. Since she’s a freshman, I just do my best to guide her any way I can. I didn’t have that when I joined the team.

“I had the older players treat me like a sibling to help me through that so I like to do my best to help my sister Reagan through all of that.”

Rivals, of course

But of course, with any set of sisters comes sibling rivalry. When asked which are the biggest rivals on the field, there was no hesitation — Sydney and the school’s all-time leading scorer Brynn Hess.

“We’re just very competitive with each other,” Sydney Hess said. “When we’re on the same team, we just like to win. When we’re not on the same team, we butt heads.”

And when the team is in need of a laugh or means to unwind, they typically don’t have to look further than to the Hughes’ sisters.

“Taylor and Amber I know sometimes will show up and they’ll be like fake bickering with each other and just always get a rise out of each other,” Rhianna Hess said. “It’s always nice for the team because then we can all laugh about something at practice.”

The sisterhood may have started in their individual households, but it has since grown to include the entire team. As a surprise to nobody, that’s because of two older sisters making it a point to do so, having the team playing its best soccer as it heads into the playoffs.

“I think it’s with the team captains (Brynn Hess) and (Tayor Hughes) who have known each other for their entire lives,” Sydney Hess said. “They work very well together to keep the team in line and keep us all one big happy family. When something does go wrong, they do a very nice job of keeping everyone together.”

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