Rachael Cundey has taken the stage five times to compete in the Columbia County Spelling Bee.
On Monday, in her final appearance, she did the same thing she did the first four times: Win.
Outlasting 25 opponents from the county’s elementary and middle schools, the Lakeside Middle School eighth-grader correctly spelled “piccolo” in the 18th round to keep her streak of county championships intact.
“I’m excited,” she said afterward. “I’ll just keep studying my spelling” in preparation for the regional bee, set for March 2. Rachael also has won the regional bee the past four years, currently holding the records as the youngest ever to win the county and regional bee, and for the most wins in each. She’s been to national competition four times, coming in 10th place last year.
Even with that record, Rachael says she didn’t enter Monday’s competition at Grovetown Middle School expecting to win.
“I just didn’t know,” she shrugged.
Though Cundey was characteristically unflappable during the competition, the end of the bee came with a little drama – at least, what passes for drama during an academic competition.
After Stevens Creek Elementary School fourth-grader Charles Li bowed out in round 13 – misspelling “streudel” – Rachael remained head to head with Grovetown Middle School sixth grader Brec Frazier. He had won his schools’ bees here and elsewhere since third grade, and matched words with Rachel as the two breezed through three more rounds.
At the end of round 17, pronouncer Sandy Woods, a Greenbrier High School English teacher, shuffled the list of words for tougher ones than “contiguous,” “greengage” and “caribou” that the spellers had just reeled off.
“I’m trying to find some words for you two,” she said, finally skipping ahead to word No. 192: “mattock.”
Brec spelled it incorrectly – “maddock” – but Woods misheard the answer, declared him correct and moved on to Rachel, who correctly spelled “agnostic.”
The judges then paused the competition to ask to review the recording of Brec’s spelling, and afterward declared that he’d misspelled it. Rachael’s correct spelling meant she’d move on alone to the next round, and when she spelled “piccolo” correctly, she was declared the winner.
After all the trophies were handed out, Brec congratulated Rachael, who as an eighth-grader is in her final year of eligibility.
He said he believes her departure gives him a better chance next time.
“Since she’s not going to be here next year, I’m hoping I can also win,” Brec said.
The regional bee will be held at 10 a.m. March 2 at The Augusta Chronicle’s Morris Auditorium.