From left: YY Liang, Olivia Lipiec and Victor Yang. All three...

From left: YY Liang, Olivia Lipiec and Victor Yang. All three students were representing the region at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Two of the three students representing the region at the Scripps National Spelling Bee survived three tough rounds Tuesday to advance to Wednesday's quarterfinals.

YY Liang and Victor Yang, both 12, spelled one word correctly in Round 1; answered a multiple-choice question on the meaning of another word in Round 2; and then, in Round 3 later in the day, correctly spelled another word.

YY, a seventh-grader from Westchester County who is home-schooled, said she grew nervous when the words came. Her last word of the day was “prima facie,” meaning true, valid, or sufficient at first impression, according to Merriam-Webster.

“When you actually do your word, it was scary, nerve-wracking, because there’s a lot of people watching you and counting on you to spell it correctly,” she said later.

Victor, a sixth-grader who attends Great Neck North Middle School, said he knew all three words and was confident. His last word Tuesday was “boongary,” meaning a small tree wallaby native to Queensland.

Watching him offstage, his mother, Li Xue, was so nervous that she didn’t even try to film his performance because she feared her hands would be shaking.

Looking ahead, Xue said she’s already proud of what her son has accomplished.

“I don't have any expectations for tomorrow,” she said. “I'm already happy tonight.”

A total of 245 spellers from around the nation and as far away as Guam were there at the beginning of the competition Tuesday in National Harbor, Maryland. By the end of Round 3, 148 were left. 

Olivia Lipiec, 13, from Smithtown, was one of 28 spellers eliminated in Round 3 after she misspelled “zakat” — an annual alms tax or poor rate that each Muslim is expected to pay as a religious duty and that is used for charitable and religious purposes.

“It’s pretty disappointing because I knew the word, but then at the last second, I decided to go with the wrong one,” Olivia said by phone afterward.

The seventh-grader said she would like to try again next year. But when she returns to Accompsett Middle School in Smithtown, she plans to tell her English teacher Lorraine McDermott about learning the word “pulchritude” in a recent class.

That was the word she had to correctly define in Round 2. She flashed a smile upon hearing it onstage.

“I was like, oh, my English teacher's going to be happy about that,” she said. “If it wasn't for that [class], I probably would have no idea what that was.”

Olivia’s parents said they were proud of how far she had come and would celebrate it Tuesday night.

“It's a great achievement, I mean, for her to be here competing with a group of the best spellers in the country,” her father, Pawel Lipiec, said. “We are grateful and happy to be here. It’s a great experience. Maybe not today, but eventually she’s going to cherish this experience and remember it.”

YY and Victor will be back onstage again Wednesday morning for the quarterfinals. The finals will be held Thursday.

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