Both of its spellers - David Phan of Boulder and Dhivya Senthil Murugan of Denver - entered the competition this week with 273 other spellers. They'll be among the 41 advancing to Thursday's semifinals.
David, an eighth grader, nailed both of his words on stage - "accolade," a noun meaning bestowal of praise, and "vivace," an adjective meaning in a brisk, spirited manner.
The correct spellings, combined with his score - 24 out of 25 - on a written test spellers took Tuesday, means David scored 30 out of a possible 31 points. Spellers needed at least 29 points to advance.
That's the score Dhivya got, acing both of her stage words: "usufructuary," a noun meaning one having the use or enjoyment of something, and "harridan," a noun meaning an old, haggard woman. She got 23 on the written test.
"I feel very happy," beamed Dhivya, wearing an infectious smile, after she found out. "I just assumed [she'd advance], but it hits you harder when you absolutely know."
While she spoke, she clutched her good-luck charm: a small stuffed bee named Zips that her classmates at Challenge School gave her as a congratulatory gift. She said luck plays a part in winning, but she also studied words for 15 to 20 hours a week leading up to the national bee.
A confident David was a bit more low-key, the result of making his second straight semifinal. This is his third bee overall.
Flanked by his parents, Thieu and Anh, David said he worked hard to prepare for this year's bee. He studied more obscure words than he has in the past and has been focusing on Latin and Greek roots. The biggest change from last year has been the presence of a new spelling coach, Jeff Kirsch, who worked with him twice a week for up to three hours at a time.
"Very prepared," David said when asked how he felt about his chances this year. Then, pointing to Kirsch, he added: "I've got him on my side."
Kirsch, who has coached other spellers, smiled. A professor of Spanish and Portuguese languages, Kirsch competed in the 1965 national spelling bee and won the 2004 National Senior Spelling Bee.
Semifinalists compete onstage between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. (8 a.m. and 11 a.m. MT) Thursday. Finalists compete onstage beginning at 8:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. MT).
David, who attends Nevin Platt Middle School, plays trombone and is a member of his school band. He also enjoys flying radio-controlled helicopters, building and painting scale models, and playing video and computer games.
An honor roll student, his favorite school subject is math and he aspires to become a neurosurgeon or an aerospace engineer. He participated in the 2009 and 2010 Scripps National Spelling Bees, tying for 33rd place last year.
Dhivya participates in her school's math and chess clubs. She also volunteers at a retirement home and enjoys arts and crafts, drawing, swimming and roller skating.
Her mother, Geetha, said Dhivya's spelling skills come from her love of reading. Dhivya said she likes fantasy books, especially the Harry Potter series. She also is taking lessons in piano, karate and Indian classical dance.
This is Dhivya's first appearance at the national bee.
"It's a great achievement for a fifth-grader," said her father, Senthil, as he stood by her.
A Colorado competitor has been crowned national champion seven times since the bee began in 1925. The last one was Pratyush Buddiga in 2002.
The 275 spellers (138 boys and 137 girls) range in age from 8 to 15 and include competitors from China, Ghana, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
Three of this year's spellers have competed in three previous bees.
This year's champion will receive $30,000 cash, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond, a $5,000 scholarship and other prizes. Each of the spellers will receive, at minimum, a $100 gift card and a $100 U.S. savings bond.
ESPN will broadcast the semifinals and the finals.
Last year, Anamika Veeramani, 14, of North Royalton, Ohio, won the bee by correctly spelling "stromuhr," an instrument used to measure blood flow.
This story written by Ledyard King, Gannett News Service.
(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)