Ellie Milligan knows she wasn't at last year's Spelling Bee.
She was supposed to be, but illness kept her away.
The School of St. Mary eighth grader made sure she was there for this year's edition. She correctly spelled the word, convalesce, to win the school's Spelling Bee on Tuesday in Lake Forest.
"I was so surprised," Milligan said.
She couldn't at first remember the word that gave her the title. After 14 rounds, starting initially with more than 30 classroom finalists, no wonder.
"Oh yeah, I knew it," Milligan said when told the word again.
The field dwindled to four by the sixth round, including sixth grader Alma Vedra and seventh grader Vanessa Deubler. Both went out in the next round on the words, annotate and linguistically.
For the last seven rounds, Milligan and eighth grader Alexander Mullarkey traded either misses or hits.
To start the 14th round, Mullarkey missed on the word, astrophysicist. That opened the door for Milligan, whose win means she will represent the school at the Lake County Sectional on Feb. 22.
A two-sport athlete at St. Mary's in track and volleyball, Milligan said she did nothing special to prepare for the Spelling Bee.
"I think I’ve always been a pretty good speller," she said.
Maybe Milligan's athletic background allowed her to cope with the tension as it built as the field began to thin with each round.
"I was nervous," said Milligan, who plans to attend either Loyola Academy or Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart. "I took deep breaths, and tried not to think about it."
Some of the words to bump participants out of the running included: adequate, waiver, laborious, replete, damageable, embryo, shawl and eclipse.
The rest of the classroom finalists included eighth graders Max Wunk, Sam Greener, Jack Landis and Caroline Karlson; seventh graders Jack Kelner, MJ Finnegan, Thomas Olson, Ryan Kandziora, Claire Kummerer, Connor Lewis, Vanessa Deubler and Tommy Casey; sixth graders Emmy Raymond, Bettina Urdaneta, Jack Pasquella, Matt DeValerio, Grace Scheidler, Bo Sensenbrenner, Alma Vedra and Isabella Mancini; fifth graders Sully Shave, John Torosian, Maeve Anger, Andreas Mozny and Caroline Lewis; fourth graders Maddie Goodman, Emilia Rosinski, Connor Milliman, Ryan Peters and Charlie Casey.