Folsom seventh-grader advances to national spelling bee semifinals

Snehaa Ganesh Kumar, 12, of Folsom, is one of 49 spellers to advance to the semifinals in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Snehaa Ganesh Kumar, 12, of Folsom, is one of 49 spellers to advance to the semifinals in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Medill News Service

“Exuberant” is the word Snehaa Ganesh Kumar chose to describe how she felt the moment her name was called Wednesday to announce she had advanced to the semifinals in the 88th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“I just hope my hard work pays off,” said Snehaa, 12, a seventh-grader from Folsom Middle School. “I’ve been doing this for five years and if I win, I’ll just be so happy.”

After participating in Tuesday’s preliminary written exams and Wednesday’s oral spellings alongside 284 spellers, Snehaa will move on to the semifinals with just 48 others.

The two words she spelled correctly – “picaresque” and “pirarucu” – didn’t come as a shock to Snehaa.

She said both of those words appeared in the “Spell It!” study list provided by the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which contains about 1,150 words from Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.

“Picaresque” is an adjective that relates to stories with a rogue or dishonest character, while “pirarucu” is a type of fish found in the rivers of South America.

Snehaa appeared calm and confident when she took to the microphone to spell before the judges at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in suburban Washington, D.C.

“I pretend nobody’s there and it’s just me and the judges,” she said.

Snehaa said the words don’t make her nervous but rather the number of people and media watching. The ballroom was crammed with several hundred people.

After winning the 32nd annual California Central Valley Spelling Bee on March 4, Snehaa prepared for her first national competition by studying nearly two hours each weekday and five hours on the weekends. She also looked at GRE and SAT vocabulary words, a recommendation from Aditya Mishra, who represented the Sacramento region last year at the National Spelling Bee as a Roseville seventh-grader.

Some of the words that stumped other contestants included “colocynth” and “lixiviate.”

While Snehaa’s mother was nervous watching the action on stage, she’s happy that her daughter has made it this far.

“I feel very excited because not many people get this opportunity to be on the stage,” said Vijaya Ganesh Kumar. “And to be one of 11 million is great.”

Students who make it to the national level are in the top 0.000026 percent of spellers across the country.

Snehaa’s semifinal journey began Wednesday evening with a written exam and will continue with oral spelling rounds Thursday morning. The words can come from any of the more than 476,000 entries in the bee’s official dictionary.

Scripps National Spelling Bee

Semifinals: 7 to 10 a.m. Thursday (ESPN 2)

Championship Finals: 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday (ESPN)

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