CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When it comes to spelling bees, it's always been close but no cigar for Lauren Coccari.
But after taking second place three years in a row at the Kanawha County bee, the Sissonville Middle School eighth-grader managed to outlast 39 other spellers Saturday to win the Gazette-Mail Regional Spelling Bee.
Lauren spelled "velocity" correctly to become Kanawha County's first regional bee champion since South Charleston's Alex Carter claimed his second victory in 1998.
Teresa Riffle of Jackson County came in second place, and Su Su Wai of Greenbrier County took third place.
The bee, held at Capital High School, was co-sponsored by the West Virginia Automobile & Truck Dealers Association and the College Foundation of West Virginia, or cfwv.com.
This was the fourth year for Lauren to compete at the regional level so finally winning the event was a little overwhelming for her mom, Stephanie.
"Oh my gosh, I cried when she got to be the winner. You don't know how many years, I mean, since fourth grade she's been doing these spelling competitions," her mother said.
"My heart just stopped when she won. I couldn't believe it; I still can't. I'm shocked."
After 14 grueling rounds, Lauren and Teresa were the lone remaining spellers. As soon as Teresa heard her word -- abysmally -- she said she knew she was in trouble. She swapped an "i" for the "y," leaving the door open for Lauren to snag the victory.
Lauren proceeded to spell "havoc" correctly, but one more word remained between the 14-year-old and the crown. When she heard "velocity," she knew she had it in the bag.
For the last three years, Lauren and Kathryn Wantlin of Charleston Catholic have duked it out at the Kanawha County bee. And for the last three years, Kathryn has defeated Lauren, although both would advance to the regional. Each participating county sends two spellers.
Lauren summed up the regional championship with one word: "amazing."
Taking a slightly different approach to her training this year could have been the key to success.