There wasn't a second of hesitation in Sarah Bhaskaran's voice.
In a perfect, intentional rhythm, the sixth-grade Paradise Canyon Elementary student spelled out, "t-e-r-r-a-z-z-o" and it was all over. Sarah, 11, had won the 2011 La Cañada Unified School District Spelling Bee, which was held at the district's Round Building Thursday night.
Sarah didn't pause to collect herself before spelling the word, even though she knew it was the deciding factor in who would be crowned the district's spelling-bee champion.
"It was from the [study] list," said Sarah, explaining why she had no difficulty with the word. "The ones that were on the list were easy."
Sarah spelled 20 different words off the top of her head in 90 seconds — outlasting 12 other district elementary students. Each district elementary school, La Cañada Elementary, Palm Crest Elementary and Paradise Canyon Elementary school, sent four contestants to LCUSD's annual spelling bee. Every student had to qualify through a spelling bee at their school.
As La Cañada Unified's champion, Sarah is moving on to compete in the Los Angeles County Spelling Bee on March 23 at the Almansor Golf Course in Alhambra. Nate Rowe, a sixth grader at Palm Crest Elementary, came in second Thursday night.
"I'm just tickled pink for [Sarah}," said Debra Cradduck, Sarah's principal at Paradise Canyon Elementary. "She did such a great job with such hard words and studied so long and so hard."
The biggest scare of the night for Sarah came when the contest was narrowed down to just her and Nate. Her face turned uncertain, an uncharacteristic expression, after the judge asked her to spell "parochial." She struggled through the word and to her surprise, the judge's bell never dinged to signal an incorrect spelling.
She wasn't the only shocked one.
"Good job, I didn't know that one either," Nate whispered to Sarah, offering her a high five as she returned to her seat.
"I was definitely surprised I knew how to spell 'parochial.' I was just guessing," Sarah said.
Still, Shyam Bhaskaran, Sarah's dad, thinks he was more anxious than his daughter throughout the night.
"I thought she had a pretty good chance to win — she's a pretty good speller so I'm not surprised," Bhaskaran said. "I think I was more nervous than she was, though."