By mastering "maestro," Rachael Cundey repeated as Columbia County's top speller.
"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," he told the fifth-grader at South Columbia Elementary School.
Rachael defeated 24 other pupils from each of the county's elementary and middle schools at the annual bee, held Monday at Grovetown Middle School.
The 11-year-old now will represent the county in the regional spelling bee finals, to be held March 6 at The News Building on Broad Street.
After winning last year's regional finals, Rachael went to the national contest in Washington, D.C. She was eliminated in early rounds, but the lessons she learned in the national contest better prepared Rachael for this year's competition, said her mother, Tammy Cundey, who teaches at Rachael's school.
Rachael was very deliberate, slowly pronouncing each letter.
"She saw a lot of the others in Washington rush through the words," Ms. 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. "I only got nervous when they gave me 'aggrandize,' " she said. "I wasn't sure about that one."
Rachael won a trophy, a $300 savings bond from the Grovetown Merchants Association and other prizes.
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.