2011 was a year of firsts for senior Kelly Cundiff.
Last December, the 18-year-old, with some nudging from a friend, . The Cranberry teen, whom Kane Modeling School & Agency in Butler now represents, had never entered a beauty contest before.
To her surprise, she took home the crown.
“I didn’t have any expectations for it,” she said. “It was my first time doing a pageant or modeling, so it was surprising.”
She was equally surprised earlier this month when she selected as the fourth runner-up out of 54 participants in the 2012 Miss Pennsylvania USA pageant. The contest was Dec. 2 through Dec. 4 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at the Pittsburgh International Airport.
“Gosh, it was so much fun,” Cundiff said.
The youngest of the contestants -- and one of the least experienced -- Cundiff had hoped to break the top 15. When she was announced as one of the top five contests, she could hardly believe her ears.
“I was so excited,” she said. “ I couldn’t ask for any more.”
As Miss Butler County USA 2011, Cundiff received automatic entry into the Miss Pennsylvania USA pageant, where contestants range in age from 18 to 26, instead of the Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA, where contestants are ages 14 to 18. The winner of the contest moves on to the nationally televised Miss USA Pageant.
Cundiff said most of the women she competed with were seasoned pageant veterans in their mid-20s. This included Valerie Compeggie, Cundiff’s roommate throughout the weekend.
Instead of being intimidated by Compeggie, who placed first runner-up in the pageant, Cundiff said she formed a sister-like bond with the experienced beauty contestant. Throughout the weekend, Cundiff said she and Compeggie stuck together as they attended rehearsals and met the judges in the interview rooms.
“I could ask her anything, and she would help me,” Cundiff said.
Cundiff said she also gained confidence through the support of her family and friends on hand to clap whenever she took the stage during the three-day competition, including the swimsuit and evening gown portions.
“They all had front row seats, and the judges could hear them cheering,” she said. “Just for my self-confidence, it was so nice having them down there cheering me on.”
A varsity Lacrosse players and a high honor roll student who plans to become a nurse like her mother, Cundiff said she would consider entering the Miss Pennsylvania USA again.
“I think I’m going to wait a couple years and get my age up and get some more experience in my life I can talk about,” she said.
Cundiff also capped off her 2011 by relinquishing her Butler County crown. On Dec. 18, Cundiff crowned fellow Seneca Valley student Hannah O’Donoghue, a 17-year-old high school junior, as the new Miss Butler County USA 2012. O’Donoghue, of Cranberry, also was voted Miss Photogenic.
An honor roll student who has lettered for management in wrestling, O'Donoghue is planning a career in art therapy. She has won numerous awards for various art shows, according to Marilyn E. Kane, producer of the Miss Butler County USA pageant.
Cundiff and O’Donoghue aren’t the only beauties representing the community. Julie Belechak of Cranberry was named Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA 2012 this month. A student at Vincentian Academy in the North Hills, Belechak will represent Pennsylvania in the 2012 Miss Teen USA contest.
Alexandra Pacinda, a Seneca Valley junior, was a semifinalist in the Miss Pennsylvania Teen USA Pageant.
Another Seneca Valley student, 17-year-old Marissa Confer of Cranberry, was one of eight semi-finalists in the Miss Butler County USA pageant.