The seventh-grader from Creighton Middle School in Lakewood, Colo., was tied for 12th place based on her cumulative score after a second written test on Wednesday night.
But her luck changed as two contestants with higher scores misspelled onstage Thursday morning, leaving her tied for 9th place.
“A lot of the words were really hard. I didn’t know all of them,” Sylvie said. “I think there is an element of luck to this, so I was really happy to make the finals.”
She correctly spelled “monepic,” which means consisting of one word, and “Hanswurst,” a burlesque character common in German comedy from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
This is Sylvie’s first and only chance at the national bee. Unlike some other state bees, Colorado’s won’t send a speller to the national bee more than once. She has spent every spare minute studying with her dad, Jeff Lamontagne.
“Since this is my first and only time, there’s a lot of pressure involved with this,” she said. “I mean, I think it’s really unlikely that I’m going to win, but there’s still a lot of pressure.”
While spellers have a word list to study for preliminary rounds, the semifinal and final rounds have no such lists. That increases the spellers’ chances of misspelling a word.
“I’m probably just going to go over the more obscure words I have trouble with, because at this point all the words are going to be really hard tonight,” she said.
Sylvie normally writes letters on her hand while she is spelling. Now she is also writing other contestants’ words as she sits onstage, to calm her nerves.
“If I know another contestant’s word, then I’m kind of more assured that I’m going to get a word that I know,” she said.
After the applause died Wednesday, the 49 finalists took a second written spelling and vocabulary test. In a first, bee officials released a list Thursday morning ranking the semifinalists based on their performance on stage Wednesday and both written tests.
Those ranked near the bottom knew they had little chance of making into the finals, but they spelled earnestly, hoping to end with a higher rank.
Those who spelled their first words correctly got a second chance to spell on stage. After that, bee officials chose the top 10 spellers based on their total scores. The finals will air Thursday at 8 p.m. EDT on ESPN. The winner takes home $35,000 in cash, a trophy and other prizes.
Reach reporter Rebeca Piccardo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-408-1492. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.