After an hour and half, and more than 30 rounds, it came down to ‘valves.’
Anika Gundlapalli asked to hear the word a second time, and asked for the definition to be sure — but she knew she had it.
And with v-a-l-v-e-s, Gundlapalli opened her path back to Washington, D.C.
The sixth-grader won the regional spelling bee for the second straight time on Saturday morning, outlasting 12 other area spellers in the bee at Permian High School, to punch her ticket back to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
“I’m excited to go to Washington, D.C.,” the quiet Gundlapalli put it simply after her win.
Gundlapalli is set to represent the region in the 91st Scripps national bee in May. Last year, after winning the same regional bee, she finished 41st at nationals out of 290-plus spellers.
Saturday, the field thinned down to four spellers by the third round, before that group pushed steady through to the 17th round. ‘Innocuous’ knocked one speller from the stage there, then another tripped over ‘sportsy’ in the 30th round.
When her opponent stumbled with ‘relieve’ in 34th round, Gundlapalli hit ‘wineskin’ to force what turned out to be the final, 35th round, where she spelled ‘valves’ to win the championship.
“I was nervous,” the 11-year-old said of that 35th round and the chance to win the title, but adding that once she heard her word, she was confident. “I thought I had it.”
Gundlapalli attributed her win to preparation and study, and said it was cool to see that work pay off. She said she really wanted to make another trip to Washington.
“She worked really hard throughout the year,” said her father, Sai Gundlapalli. “She went last year, and I told her, ‘This is great, but in the long run there’s more important things.’ But she really wanted it and she went for it. It’s all her endeavor.
“She really loves the spelling, and words. She likes the challenge of it, I think,” he added.