Area student advances in national spelling bee

Sophia Lopez, a seventh-grader at Cedarville Middle School, has qualified for the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee.
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Sophia Lopez, a seventh-grader at Cedarville Middle School, has qualified for the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The field of 209 spellers was cut to 74, but Sophia Lopez made it to Tuesday’s quarterfinals

Cedarville Middle School student Sophia Lopez is among the final 74 spellers in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, thanks to her success in Saturday’s preliminary round.

She’ll compete again in Tuesday’s online quarterfinals, which can be watched on the ESPN3 digital network from noon to 6 p.m. The online preliminaries started with 209 contestants, but every round of the competition is an elimination round — one mistake and you’re out.

“There was definitely some pressure, but I think I was able to get through pretty well without being too nervous,” Sophia said Monday. “I just took a deep breath and tried to relax.”

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The spellers and pronouncers could see each other over the video link, and spellers asked their standard questions about the words’ definition, language of origin and part of speech. Spellers had to keep their hands in view of the camera, just to ensure there was no risk of cheating by looking something up.

In the first round Saturday, Sophia correctly spelled her word, hepatectomy, which is a type of surgical procedure excising all or part of the liver. Seventy-one spellers were eliminated in that first round, taking the field down to 138.

The second round was not a spelling round, but a “word meaning” round, where contestants had to correctly answer a multiple-choice question about a word’s definition. Sophia was asked whether “pious” meant unruly, devout or majestic, and she correctly chose “devout.” Another 29 contestants were eliminated in that round, reducing the field to 109.

In the third round, she correctly spelled “slough,” which is pronounced “slew” and means, “a state of moral degradation.” With 35 more spellers eliminated in Round 3, the field of 74 was set for Tuesday.

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“I was a little bit apprehensive about the online format, but I think the Scripps team did a really good job of making it seem really nice and normal,” she said.

While some of the spellers were too tense to react when they finished Round 3, a big smile broke out on Sophia’s face, as she said it was “a sense of relief” to be on to the quarterfinals when so many contestants had been eliminated.

Sophia, who is 13 and just finished seventh grade, also advanced to the national spelling bee in 2019. She’s involved in theater, likes running and swimming, and she plays the violin, including with the Springfield Youth Symphony. She said she enjoys reading and spending time with her friends and her cats.

The online quarterfinals will follow the same format as the preliminaries — spelling in Round 4, word meaning in Round 5, spelling in Round 6 — with everyone who successfully completes Round 6 advancing to the semifinals June 27.

On Monday, Sophia was busy studying for Tuesday’s rounds, but she was trying to keep some balance.

“I think it’s good to study and review a lot of words before a spelling bee, just to have them fresh in your mind,” she said. “But taking study breaks is also really helpful.”

Of the 14 Ohio contestants in the national competition, six advanced to the quarterfinals. In addition to Lopez, they are: Nathan McElroy, 11, of Marietta Veritas Classical Academy; Isabella Fletcher, 12, of Steubenville Harding Middle School; Rajshekhar Basu Sarkar, 12, of Van Buren Middle School near Findlay; Christopher Dominick, 13, of Struthers Middle School near Youngstown; and Hurshil Nittala, 13, of Olentangy Liberty Middle School near Columbus.

The national semifinals and finals will be televised on ESPN2 and ESPNU. The top 10-12 spellers from the June 27 semifinals (which will continue in the online format) will advance to the in-person finals July 8 in Orlando, Fla.