Rachael Cundey ascended to the summit of all spelling bees when she made her fifth trip to the national contest this week, but she never made it to the top.
Rachael tripped on the word “calotte,” a small, brimless cap, in the semi-final rounds Thursday, falling out of contention for the Scripps National Spelling Bee title.
“I wasn’t sure I knew how to spell it,” she said by telephone after the round ended. “I know how to spell it now.”
The rising Lakeside High School freshman, who finished tied for 10th last year at the national bee, was in her final year of eligibility for the national bee and was one of only two contenders this year to make it to Washington, D.C., in all five years of eligibility.
Cundey advanced to the two-round semifinals on Thursday. She first spelled “recusancy” (refusal to obey authority) correctly, advancing to round six with 31 others.
Thursday’s next round proved to be more difficult, as four of the first eight spellers were eliminated. Cundey, the ninth speller, was tripped up on “calotte” and her competition ended.
When the bell rang to signal her elimination, “I was OK,” Rachael said.
“I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to spell it correctly, so it wasn’t a big surprise.”
Contestants who are eliminated are directed off the stage to an area where they wait for their parents, and Rachael said an ESPN camera followed her as she made her exit.
“It was OK,” she said. “It would have been uncomfortable if I had been crying or something.”
Immediately afterward, she said she talked to her father, grandparents and friends to deliver the news. She and her mother plan to take a tour of the capital Friday, and attend the awards banquet that evening.
Tonight, when the championship finals are held?
“We’ll probably just watch that on TV,” Rachael said.