LOS BANOS -- At age 14, Kiara Gilardi of Los Banos is a veteran wordsmith and the winner of Thursday's Merced County Spelling Bee for seventh- and eighth-graders.
Kiara, an eighth-grader at Los Banos Junior High School, has been competing in spelling bees since she was in fourth grade. In her first try she finished third, then won as a fifth-grader. She finished in third place as a sixth-grader and took last year off.
Seventh-grader Anmol Kaur, 12, also a Los Banos Junior High School student, finished second at the event, held at the sponsoring Merced County Office of Education in Merced.
Both students will compete May 11 at the state championships at the Marin County Office of Education in San Rafael.
Thirty students from 15 middle schools in the county took part in the event.
Kiara's mother, Nancy, said her daughter is very good at memorizing, is an excellent reader and loves her English and science classes. Kiara wants to attend California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and become a large-animal veterinarian.
Nancy Gilardi said Kiara started practicing for Thursday's spelling bee about three weeks ago.
Anmol's father, Navneet Judge of Los Banos, said his daughter finished second in last year's county spelling bee for elementary school students and placed 10th at the state championships. She has always won first place in spelling events at the school, her father said.
"I'm proud of her big-time," Judge said. "This year we will go for first place, and she will practice a lot, give it 120 percent."
Anmol spent about five hours Wednesday preparing for the spelling competition and another hour this morning before the event, Judge said.
Valerie LeDuc, MCOE student events supervisor, said Kiara and Anmol each correctly spelled four words before the final word, "harangue."
John Magneson, coordinator for instructional services at the MCOE, was the wordmaster.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.