Though the rules had changed since last year, that didn't deter Shruti Amin from taking first place once again in the Murrieta Valley Unified School District Spelling Bee.
Shruti, an eighth-grader at outlasted 27 other spellers in the bee held Thursday night in Gershwin Performing Arts Center. Shruti went 11 rounds to win for the third year in a row by spelling "sultan" correctly.
A rules change by Scripps Howard, which coordinates the national spelling bee each year, meant students had no list to study from as they had in past years. Instead, they were given a similar words list as well as a website to study on.
Shruti said she didn't use the website. Instead, she relied on what has worked for her in past years: taking her time by asking the spelling bee master for the language of origin and alternate pronunciations. At one point, she had 30 seconds left to correctly spell "vehemence," which she later admitted she almost added an "a" to.
Other words she spelled correctly included "stroganoff," "tutelage," "ensemble" and "pituitary."
"It was harder than the other years," Shruti said.
In past years, students could memorize the list. And instead of starting off with a basic list Thursday night then moving to intermediate and advanced, a variety of words were introduced from the start.
"It did make it more difficult," Shruti said.
District Spelling Bee Coordinator Jennifer Counts agreed the new format was a bit of an adjustment compared to prior years.
"It is a total change of format," Counts said. "Any type of change is hard. I feel for the families and the contestants...[but] this change was made at the national level."
By round one, 14 spellers were eliminated. By round three, nine students remained; by round four there were six; in round five, three remained.
In the end, Stephan Culver, an eighth-grader at came in second place. Stephan stumbled on "miso" in the 11th round after going four rounds against Shruti to determine the first-place winner. Other words he spelled correctly throughout the night included "circumlocution," "behemoth" and "timorously."
Finishing in third place was Dominique Raymundo, a sixth-grader at . She was eliminated in the sixth round when she added an extra "h" to "scythe." It was her first year competing, but she successfully spelled words such as "extemporaneous" and "carbohydrates" throughout the evening.
"I feel great even though I won third place," Dominique said afterward. "I still want to come back next year."
For Stephan and Shruti, it was the last year both could have competed. The bee is open to students in fourth through eighth grades. Students compete at the school level to determine who goes on to the district level. For Stephan, it was the farthest he'd ever made it at the district level after competing since fourth grade.
"I feel pretty good about it," Stephan said.
Members of the school board and Superintendent Stan Scheer were on hand to congratulate the winners and present them with trophies contributed by Best Impressions.
Murrieta Youth Soccer League sweetened the deal by giving the first-place winner a $100 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble. The second-place winner received a $75 gift certificate and the third-place winner a $50 gift certificate.
Shruti will now go on to the Riverside County Spelling Bee in March. She came in fifth place last year at the county bee, and fourth the year before. The winner of the county bee goes on to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.