EUREKA, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — It’s a week of redemption for Meika Bender.

The Eureka junior having a breakout cross country season, admittedly didn’t run as well as she had hoped in regionals. She finished third with a time of 20:16 at the Peoria regional on Oct. 28.

But Saturday, she rebounded and easily won the Elmwood sectional, covering the three-mile course in 17:59. She pointed her success at the tough lesson she learned a week earlier.

“I learned no one will run every race perfectly,” Bender said. “You have to push through the hard ones. You can always bounce back. “

Bender’s performance led the Eureka girls to the sectional championship.

“Last week was her first race that didn’t go as she planned,” said Eureka head coach Olivia Morris. “Her body didn’t like what she was used to. So it was how to bounce back.”

Her high school sports career hasn’t gone as planned either. In grade school, Bender played basketball, it was her first love.

“I didn’t run track until my eighth grade year,” Bender said. “Then in high school my best friend convinced me to run cross country. (Eureka) got third at state my freshman year and I was hooked.”

This week she returns to the state meet at Peoria’s Detweiller Park as the runner that could lead Eureka to another state trophy. But this time she’s not running in the pack, she’s out in front of it.

“In the past I was the underclassman along for the ride. This year I feel like I have a bigger responsibility,” Bender said. “I’m excited to see how everyone does.”