Wichita Dillons grocery employee to represent Kansas at Best Baggers Championship in Las Vegas

First the cereal.

Then the canned goods.

And never put eggs on the bottom.

For Taylor Cantrell, winning an upcoming competition is all in the bag – a reusable one, if you please.

After months of training, Cantrell will represent Kansas and Dillons Stores at the National Grocers Association’s 2013 Best Bagger Championship on Feb. 10 in Las Vegas.

“It’s crazy. It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Cantrell said between practice sessions Friday afternoon. “I do better under pressure.”

Competitors will be judged in several areas: speed, how “prudently” items have been bagged, and whether the weight of items is evenly distributed among three bags. There are also points for attitude, personality and appearance.

Cantrell has worked at the Dillons at 21st and Maize for a year and a half. If she wins at nationals, the prize is $10,000.

The 18-year-old Maize High senior says the money will go toward college and a car if she wins. She isn’t sure yet where she’ll go to school next year, but she wants to become a doctor.

The winner also gets a trip to New York City to be on “The Late Show with David Letterman” for a special bagging competition.

“I just told her I want to go to David Letterman so I could meet Bradley Cooper or somebody who’s on there,” Taylor’s mom, Kris Cantrell, joked.

Several family members will accompany her to Las Vegas.

“It’s been a nice experience to help her mature and come out of her shell,” said her father, Todd Cantrell. “She used to be kind of shy.”

Cantrell’s parents say her calm and collected nature is her strength. Her bagging coach, Ricardo Jimenez, front-end operations coordinator for Wichita Dillons stores, agrees.

“She does a great job with customers and helping other associates,” Jimenez says. “She’s engaging, friendly and helpful.”

Now that she has her total bagging time for three bags down to between 37 and 44 seconds, Jimenez says Cantrell is focusing on even weight distribution.

There’s no doubt the people at Dillons and grocery stores across the country take the competition seriously.

“It’s like an Olympic sport,” said Billy Saunders, division front end operation manager for Dillons. “Some people even practice blindfolded.”

Last year, Dillons sent an associate from Manhattan, but he did not place in the national competition.

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