Cedarville speller one of 30 to reach televised national semifinals

Maybe it was a good omen Tuesday when Sophia Lopez had to know the definition of the word “junket” in the fifth round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

A person on a junket is taking a trip, and the Cedarville Middle School student got one step closer to the spelling bee finals in Orlando, Fla., by nailing all three quarterfinal rounds Tuesday.

There were 209 spellers who started the national competition Saturday, and Sophia is one of only 30 to qualify for the June 27 national semifinals, which will be televised on ESPN2, starting at 7 p.m. That round, like the previous ones, will be online, and the top 10-12 spellers there will advance to the in-person finals July 8.

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.

“Today I’m glad I got words I knew, and on Saturday too. I do think my words kind of reflected how difficult those rounds are supposed to be,” Sophia said, adding that things will get tougher in the semifinals.

Tuesday’s quarterfinals started with 75 spellers still in the hunt. In Round 4, Sophia correctly spelled hygrometer (an instrument for measuring the humidity of the atmosphere), as the field was pared to 58.

In Round 5, a multiple-choice “word-meaning” round, she knew that a person on a “junket” is taking a trip, rather than selling merchandise or improvising a solo on an instrument. Another 16 contestants answered their words incorrectly, leaving 42 spellers.

In Round 6, Sophia was faced with “compotator,” which means “one who drinks with another.” The word is rare enough that many spell-check systems will try to change it. But Sophia — ghost-writing the word on her hand like many other spellers — smoothly got it right.

The 30 semifinalists include 13 boys and 17 girls, representing 18 states and the Bahamas. Three of the 14 Ohio contestants advanced to the semifinals. In addition to Lopez, they are Isabella Fletcher, 12, of Steubenville Harding Middle School, and Rajshekhar Basu Sarkar, 12, of Van Buren Middle School near Findlay.

Sophia said it will be good to have an 11-day break before the semifinals, giving her more time to review “semifinals-caliber words” and time to relax if she needs it.

“I do feel like I have some really good competitors (remaining) who I know and I’ve seen in other spelling bees,” she said. “I am a little nervous but I’m going to try my best to make it to the finals, which I’m really excited about.”

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