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HOT SPRINGS -- The third time was the charm for 17-year-old Meridith Gould.

Gould topped a field of 15 other contestants on Friday night to be crowned during the eighth annual Miss South Dakota’s Outstanding Teen contest in Hot Springs.

The Sioux Falls teenager, who won the crown on her third try, earned the right to represent South Dakota at the Miss America Outstanding Teen Pageant in Orlando, Fla., on Aug. 18. She also won a $500 scholarship and a wardrobe allowance, among other prizes.

In total, more than $3,000 in scholarships and other awards was presented at the pageant.

The 2012 competition was more a case of being in the right frame of mind for Gould. The previous two years, Gould had been first runner-up each time.

“I think it was more being prepared this year,” she said following the pageant. “My first year I really wanted to win and when I didn’t, I was disappointed.”

She said that since she is driven to improve, she expected to do better last year, but when she found herself in the same placing, it was difficult.

“I expected to win and when I didn’t, it was very hard for me,” she said.

In 2012, she came in with an open mind that was in the right place.

“I brought no expectations this year,” Gould said. “I think that I brought the right mindset this year. That’s why when (co-host Kimberlee McKay Solares) read my name, I didn’t react. It hadn’t registered. It still hasn’t sunk in; it’s a bit overwhelming."

One reason for Gould’s improved mental state may come from a short story she told at Friday’s on-stage question competition about a little boy named Devin she met while on a mission trip to Alaska.

“He told me he loved me and I just said back to him, ‘I love you too, Devin,'" she said.

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Gould said that the little boy told her it was the first time an adult had ever said those words to him.

“It changed my life,” she said. “It really did.”

With mentoring as her chosen platform, it was natural for Gould to realize that mentoring can be anywhere, at any time -- in Alaska, South Dakota or wherever.

She said that she mentors at churches in Sioux Falls, giving dance lessons and has done work on fundraising with the Children’s Miracle Network.

“Last year I did a fundraiser and we brought in $1,700 for CMN.”

For the immediate future, she will be on a whirlwind tour of preparing for a national competition that is less than two months away.

Then it is off to Florida, where she will compete with other state Outstanding Teen contestants for the national title.

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