Ogle County eighth-graders were like two brainiac bookends up on the stage, politely battling it out for the title of queen bee.
Brunette and bespectacled Lena Baumann, Polo, bold and confident was on one side of the stage. Tall, blond Anna Snider, Forreston, reserved and intense, was on the other.
It was Round 22, and 24 other spellers from grades three through eight had been eliminated. It was down to the two slim 14-year-olds.
Heifer, Lena spelled.
Wainscot, Anna lobbed back.
Guillotine. Troika. Taupe. Glasnost. Beleaguer. Perennial. Banzai. Eiderdown.
Neither gave an inch. The audience waited in the darkened auditorium, silent and still.
Then the inevitable.
Hippopotamus. H-i-p-p-o-t-a-m-u-s. Immediately, Lena knew her mistake.
Anna's turn. She spelled forsythia, to finish round 28, then camphor, to take Round 29.
With that, and a sweet, subdued smile, Anna Snider, the Forreston Junior High School spelling champ, became the winner of the 2014 Lee-Ogle Regional Spelling Bee, held Feb. 20 in the Dixon High School auditorium.
She won an all-expenses-paid trip for two to National Harbor, Md., just south of Washington, D.C., to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee at the end of May. She will take her mom, Stephanie; father Matt will hold down the fort at home.
Anna also won a $100 U.S. savings bond, a Webster's Third New International Dictionary, and an online subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica.
This was Anna's third time at the regional bee. In a manner reminiscent of Helen Keller, she used her fingers to spell the words in her hand, a method a few of the other kids used, as well.
"I'm a visual learner," said Anna, a future physician. "It's so I can see the word."
Aplington Middle School's Lena Baumann, who has designs on becoming an architect, took second. The Polo teen, daughter of Mike and Donna Baumann, won a Kindle Fire and a Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.
Ashton-Franklin Center eighth-grader Jonah Awalt, of Ashton, a strong contender all the way through Round 21, when he stumbled over that first "h" in diphthong, won a $40 gift certificate to Books on First in Dixon.
Anna and her cousin Christian Groenewold, son of Dawn and Guy Groenewold, Forreston, kept the Forreston Junior High spelling bee in the family.
Christian was the local runner-up and Anna's alternate to the regional competition.
All 26 participants got trophies for winning their school's contest.