Rachael Cundey started studying language patterns in her spare time to improve her spelling. The studying paid off when the 11-year-old successfully defended her status Saturday as regional spelling bee champion.
"Last year, I don't think anyone thought I would win," Rachael said.
The fifth-grader from South Columbia Elementary School took on words such as "geode," "animosity," "stipple," "feldspar," "obstinate," "trajectory," "howitzer" and "streusel" before finally winning in the 16th round with "cachet."
She didn't do it without any trouble, though. She said she was a little worried when she hit "regatta" in the 10th round of the competition at The Augusta Chronicle building in downtown Augusta.
"She really felt like the underdog last year," said her mother, Tammy Cundey. "But this year, she started studying a lot earlier in the hopes that she would win."
For this year's bee, Rachael started studying at Christmas, with the whole family joining in. Little sister Sarah said she helped call out the words and has learned quite a few herself.
"Last weekend, we did a little spelling bee and I got to the eighth-grade words. Then they got too hard," second-grader Sarah said.
Sarah, who met her sister at the microphone with a big hug and kiss after the win, said she's inspired by her big sister and hopes the rules will change so she doesn't have to wait two years before competing.
"I want to start learning all the words like her this summer," Sarah said.
The family is looking forward to the trip in June to Washington, D.C., for the national bee. Rachael especially liked all the museums she visited last year. Until then, there will be a lot more studying to do.
As this year's regional champion, Rachael won an all-expenses-paid trip to the national bee, a dictionary, a $500 savings bond and a one-year online encyclopedia subscription.
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