CONCORD -- Holding a huge trophy after winning the 61st annual New Hampshire Spelling Bee on Saturday in her first attempt, Arushi Kalpande found herself unable to shake the look of surprise off her face.
"I'm overwhelmed," the sixth-grader from Infant Jesus School in Nashua said after winning the bee, presented by the New Hampshire Union Leader and held at the Capitol Center for the Arts. The competition went 11 rounds, with the words becoming more difficult with each one.
Kalpande, 12, who was one of three to get a perfect score on the written exam, said she spent most of her school vacation trying to commit to memory the spelling of words such as "shekel."
"I studied a lot," she said. "Over vacation, it was pretty much all I was doing."
Her parents, Raju and Shaila, seemed to have permanent smiles as they took what seemed to be a few hundred pictures of their daughter on the stage after the bee's conclusion.
"I'm on top of the world," Shaila Kalpande said.
While Kalpande was correctly spelling "insouciant" to win, runner-up Emma Bradley, 13, who was attempting to win in her fourth, and final, spelling bee, nodded with a bemused smile on her face.
"I knew it," said Bradley, who had earlier misspelled "bombinate."
Bradley, an eighth-grader at Bow Memorial School, said she had no regrets.
"I'm OK with it," she said. "It's been a really great spelling journey."
And, she said, Kalpande deserved to win.
"I'm happy for her," Bradley said.
The onstage portion of the bee, which followed a written test that narrowed the field from 192 to 35, featured its fair share of nerves, which pronouncer and former bee champion Carolyn D'Aquila tried to alleviate with humor several times.
When Helen Lieberman of Newfields Elementary School acknowledged being nervous, D'Aquila asked: "Excuse me, is anyone else here nervous?"
Every other contestant, and even panel coordinators Katie McQuaid Cote and Christy DeTrude, raised their hands.
"See? You're not alone," D'Aquila told Lieberman, who then correctly spelled "malcontent."
It also featured its share of characters, including Kenneth Pawlowizc of Pelham Elementary School, who dressed in a shirt and tie, prompting D'Aquila to say, "Somebody looks ready," and Gisele Dierks of Charlestown Middle School, affectionately described as the bee's "class clown" by Shannon Sullivan, director of community relations for the Union Leader.
"All right, so let's do this thing," Dierks said before correctly spelling "madeleine" in the second round. She made it to the sixth round, during which she misspelled "chattel."
As the state champion, Kalpande wins a trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The judges for the competition were Don Chesnel, Gerry Gravel and Robert Steele of the Rochester Elks.