Rachael Cundey spelled her way into another historical finish Monday during the Columbia County Spelling Bee.
Last year, as a fourth-grader, Rachael became the county's youngest Spelling Bee champion in more than a decade. This year, the South Columbia Elementary school fifth-grader became the first back-to-back champion.
"In recent years, this is the first time we've had a repeat winner in the spelling bee," said Columbia County schools Director of Middle School Learning Mike Lindsey. "I know you're proud, and I know your parents are proud."
Rachael defeated 24 other spellers, all champs from their respective schools, in the 16th round by correctly spelling "maestro." Varsha Menon, a fifth-grader at Riverside Elementary, was second. Harlem Middle eighth-grader Justin Postell came in third.
The majority of contestants were eliminated in the fourth round as the word difficulty increased. Misspelled words in that round included calisthenics, anticoagulant and latitudinarian.
Rachael's strategy for the Bee included slowly spelling each word.
Spelling Bee rules prevent competitors from repeating letters once they have been uttered. By spelling with deliberation, Rachael made sure she had each letter correct and had time to consider the following letter in each word, she said.
Tammy Cundey, Rachael's mother, said it was a technique her daughter learned last year when she represented the region at the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.
"She saw a lot of the others in Washington rush through the words," Cundey said. "Once you say a letter, you can't go back and repeat it. She knew to think about each letter before saying it out loud."
The pressure of being returning county champion didn't faze Rachael.
The 11-year-old now will represent the county in the regional spelling bee finals on March 6 at The Augusta Chronicle office on Broad Street.
If she again wins that Bee, she'll return to the nationals in Washington, D.C.
The national Bee will be held this year on June 3-4. Semifinal rounds will be televised by ESPN, and ABC will air live coverage of the finals.
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