Folsom Middle School eighth-grader Snehaa Ganesh Kumar finished third Thursday night in the Scripps National Spelling Bee after a hard fight.
Snehaa, 13, missed “usucapion” (a legal term for seizing property) in the 16th round. She spelled it usicapion.
Nihar Janga, 11, a fifth-grader from Austin, Texas, and Jairam Hathwar, 13, a seventh-grader from Painted Post, N.Y., were declared co-champions after the 39th round.
Snehaa had a resigned smile on her face watching the the co-champions spar.
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“I’m really sad, but they were better,” Snehaa said. “There were some words in there that I didn’t know, so I would have been out anyway.”
This was Snehaa’s last chance to take home the trophy, as spellers are no longer eligible after completing eighth grade. She’ll start at Vista del Lago High School in the fall, where Snehaa already has advanced placement classes picked out, including physics.
She wants to be either a cardiologist or an astrophysicist.
“I really don’t know which one,” Snehaa said. “I’ll decide later.”
Snehaa tied for fourth place in the 2015 national bee, where she was the highest Sacramento-area finisher since Rageshree Ramachandran won the 1988 competition.
The high finish came as something of a surprise to her – and audiences – last year, but she earned that honor. And this year, she was determined to do even better. And she did.
“I get up at 5 a.m. and study, so I’m not wasting any time,” Snehaa said. “I just study until the last minute, so then however I do is good.”
Her finish in 2015 made her work even harder.
“Last year I prepared just by looking at lists,” Snehaa said. “I realized it wasn’t enough. I started making my own lists from the dictionary.”
The odds were in her favor: for 13 years straight, a returning spelling bee participant has won.
With only 10 spellers remaining at the end of the seventh round Thursday morning, Snehaa looked poised to meet – or better – her 2015 tie as she entered the evening finals.
“I’m so nervous,” Snehaa said after the morning rounds. “I made it this far, and now I’ve got to finish.”
Snehaa correctly spelled “Anakim” (a Hebrew race of giants), “rafale” (multiple volleys fired from the same weapon), “porporate” (wearing purple) and “scyphate” (cup-shaped) during the competition.
Throughout her time on stage, Snehaa kept calm but confident. It wasn’t easy for her.
“When I spell on stage, that’s the most nervous I get,” she said. “When we took tests, that was just on paper and I can concentrate. When I’m on stage and there’s that timer, I have to calm myself down for every single one so I don’t blank out like last year.”
Snehaa was sponsored by The Sacramento Bee.