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Manlius Pebble Hill 8th-grader wins spelling bee after 19 rounds

Liverpool, NY — It was a battle of the titans as Maja Cannavo defeated Brennan Costello after going head-to-head for 10 consecutive rounds in The Post-Standard/WCNY Spelling Bee.

Cannavo, an eighth-grader from Manlius Pebble Hill School, smiled with relief after successfully spelling the word synusia (a structural unit of a major ecological community), ending the intense 19-round competition, which lasted nearly 2 1/2 hours.

“It feels amazing, but it’s so surprising. I really didn’t think I would win,” Cannavo said after the spelling bee, which was broadcast live on WCNY-TV, ended.

More than 200 grade-school students from more than 40 school districts, private schools and home schools in Central New York entered this year’s contest. The top 36 students participated in The Post-Standard/WCNY Spelling Bee Saturday. As the winner, Cannavo will head to Washington, D.C., to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee May 26 through June 1.

Cannavo’s parents, Helen Jacoby and Peter Cannavo, said they were “enormously proud” of her. Cannavo has been involved in the spelling bee for four years.

“This is her third year in the televised version, and each year she’s done better,” Jacoby said.

Costello, the runner-up, said she didn’t expect to get as far as she did. All of the students other than Costello and Cannavo were eliminated by the eighth round, leaving the two to compete against each other for 10 rounds. They spelled words including einsteinium, bouchon and heliacal. They each missed a couple words, but were back in the competition when the other missed a word in the same round.

Cannavo, who placed third in last year’s spelling bee, beat out the 2011 winner of the spelling bee, Julia Gorges, as well as last year’s winner, Emily Carello. Both girls are eighth-graders.

Cannavo said she started preparing around December by studying Miriam-Webster’s spelling bee website, and looking up different words on the Internet. She said her parents and her sister helped test her, and luckily, her studying paid off.

“’Viscount’ is something that I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t studied it from a list that was on the Internet, so I was really happy to get that,” she said.

Cannavo said she is excited, yet a little intimidated, to go compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. But before she begins preparing for that, she has to tend to other matters.

“I kind of spent the morning studying, so I have to do my homework,” she said. “But soon, I will.”