Vanya Shivashankar, radiating confidence, spelled her way Wednesday into the semifinal round in the 88th Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Vanya, 13, an eighth-grader from California Trail Middle School in Olathe, was the second among five Kansas City area contestants to take the stage and the only one left standing at the end of the day.
Competition at the suburban Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor was filled with energy and tension. To advance, contestants had to correctly spell two words during Wednesday’s preliminary rounds, and they had to have a top score on a preliminary multiple-choice test.
“This is my fifth time and last time coming here. So it’s definitely bittersweet,” Vanya said. “I’m really sad that this is my last time, but I’m going to see how far I can get this year.”
She won her ticket to the semifinals after correctly spelling the word “balletomane,” which means a ballet enthusiast, during the second oral round. She spelled “pistachio” in the first round.
Vanya finished tied for 13th last year and placed fifth in 2013. Her older sister, Kavya, won the 2009 championship.
For Sophia Hoffman, 12, this was her first national bee, but it’s not the first time she has made national news.
A year ago, the student from Highland Park Elementary School in Lee’s Summit was part of a marathon spell-off with a fellow contestant in Kansas City that lasted 95 rounds stretched over two Saturdays.
Sophia arrived in Washington with her parents, grandparents and 17-year-old sister, Jordan, who participated in the national competition in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
“I became interested when my sister started competing,” Sophia said. “But we were never able to be in the same spelling bees together.”
On Wednesday, she spelled “magnanimous” and “navicella” — an ornamental object shaped like a ship. Though she correctly spelled both words, she didn’t make the semifinalist list because of mistakes on the multiple-choice test.
This was also the first national bee for Allyson Scribner, 12, of Plaza Middle School in Kansas City, North. The word that tripped her up was “pâtissier.”
She said her excursion plans in the nation’s capital included paddle boarding on the Potomac and visiting Ford’s Theatre.
Joel Miles, a sixth-grader from Eagle Glen Intermediate School in Raymore, was competing in his second bee in suburban Washington. He spelled “henna” but missed on “seriema,” a South American bird with long legs.
“My favorite experience at the bee is meeting all the new people,” said Joel, 12.
Also competing was Kushi Madduru, 11, a fifth-grader at Cedar Hills Elementary in Overland Park.
Kushi, who qualified for the national bee by winning the Sunflower Spelling Bee in Hays, Kan., correctly spelled “quinine” and “antinomy” in the preliminary rounds but did not advance to the semifinals.
More than 11 million students participated in this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The competition includes three segments: preliminaries, semifinals and finals. The preliminaries, which took place Tuesday and Wednesday, are made up of three rounds: a multiple-choice test and two oral rounds onstage.
Out of the 285 spellers who qualified for the bee, 49 are going on as semifinalists. The spelling starts at 9 a.m. Central time today on ESPN2. The championship round, at 7 p.m., will be on ESPN.
Prizes for the 2015 winner include $30,000 and an engraved trophy.
Terri Yinmeng Liu is a student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.