The 15 contestants in the bee, held at The Augusta Chronicle News Building, spelled more than 200 words.
In the last 10 rounds, Rachael Cundey, Gary Hosier and Varsha Menon correctly spelled increasingly difficult words including wedel, glockenspiel, mahout and rejoneador without missing a beat.
Then, in the 41st round, Rachael correctly spelled “keeshond” while Gary stumbled over “equilibrium” and Varsha misspelled “soilure.”
When Rachael correctly spelled “obedientiary,” she was declared the regional winner for the fifth consecutive year.
“I just thought we were going to keep going forever,” she said.
She will now compete at the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., which will be held May 26 through June 1. Part of her grand prize includes an all-expense-paid trip to the competition, provided by The Chronicle.
Rachael said she has moved away from studying the provided word lists to prepare for the regional competition. Now she studies straight from the New Webster’s dictionary, and she’s working on learning it cover to cover.
Word lists aren’t provided for the national competition anyway, said her mother, Tammy Cundey.
She estimates her daughter studies two hours per day, often with help from her mother.
Rachael won her first spelling bee in fourth grade, and that’s when her father, Heath Cundey, thinks she got hooked. He said she is never without her spelling words, taking them on family trips and studying them during school holidays.
Last year, she tied for 10th out of about 300 contestants at the national bee.
There isn’t much more Rachael can do to prepare more for the national competition, her father said.
“It’s more of an accumulation of five years of study,” he said.
Rachael started reading at 3, and still loves to read, especially historical fiction. She also participates in math competitions.
As a freshman at Lakeside High School next year, she plans to participate on the math and science teams.
“I just love learning,” she said.