Keona Thomas Scripps National Spelling Bee

Keona Thomas, an eighth-grader at Manassas Christian School, competes virtually in the preliminary round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Saturday. 

Two Northern Virginia students have advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Scripps National Spelling bee, while Prince William County's competitor fell just one letter short.

Akshita Balaji of Merrifield and Ashrita Gandhari of Leesburg were among 74 spellers who survived Saturday's preliminary round, which was conducted virtually and lasted nearly 12 hours.  The day began with 209 spellers who reached the national finals by winning their local or regional spelling bee. 

In order to advance, competitors had to correctly spell two words and provide the correct definition of a third word. 

Keona Thomas of Manassas Christian School, winner of the Prince William Regional Spelling Bee in March, correctly spelled one word, LLullaillaco (a dormant stratovolcano at the border of Argentina and Chile), and provided the correct definition for ventriloquy in the second round. However, she was tripped up on her third-round word, eolith (a roughly chipped flint found in Tertiary strata), which she spelled "ealith"  

Due to technical difficulties, Thomas had to wait nearly six hours past her scheduled time to spell and was one of the final spellers to complete the preliminary round.  Because the contest is being conducted virtually, spellers are required to use laptops and headsets provided by the Scripps National Bee, must keep their hands in view of the camera while competing, and had to have a proctor in the room with them. 

The quarterfinals will be held Tuesday from noon to 6 p.m. and, like the preliminary round, will be livestreamed on ESPN3.  The semifinals will be June 27, and from there the finalists will travel to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., for the finals, which will be in person on July 8.

Balaji, 14, is an eighth-grader at Carson Middle School who won the Fairfax County bee, sponsored by the Fairfax County Council PTA.  She tied for 51st in the 2019 national bee, the last time the event was held. 

Balaji spelled senecio correctly in the first round, correctly defined extant in the second round, and correctly spelled antonomasia in the third round. 

Ghandari, also 14, is an eight-grader at Stone Hill Middle School who won the Loudoun County bee, sponsored by Loudoun County Public Schools.  She is competing in the national bee for the fourth time, having previously finished tied for 35th in 2017, tied for 42nd in 2018 and tied for 51st in 2019.  

Ghandari spelled tussock correctly in the first round, correctly defined dissonance in the second round, and correctly spelled aeroshell in the third round. 

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