AUGUSTA — When the state’s top spellers gather in Portland on Saturday, it will be the second time in the spotlight of the Maine State Spelling Bee for one of them.

Michaela Sprague, an eighth grader at Jefferson Village School and Lincoln County’s champion, was the youngest speller at the Maine State Spelling Bee in 2009, when she was in fifth grade.

On the other end of the experience spectrum is the Kennebec County champion, Ariana Cousins. She’s in eighth grade at Stepping Stones Montessori School in Chelsea, which took part in the spelling bee for the first time this year.

Each of Maine’s counties but Penobscot will be represented by one speller at the bee, which is 2 p.m. Saturday in Hannaford Hall at the University of Southern Maine.

Sprague isn’t sure whether her previous experience will be an advantage. In 2009, she was eliminated in the first round after mishearing her word, “praline.”

“I thought it was ‘preyling,’ which I don’t even think is a word,” said Sprague, 13. “I was just kind of like, ‘OK, at least it’s over now.’ Because I was really, really nervous. And I was just proud that I got there.”

Sprague said she expects to be nervous again on Saturday, just like she is when she performs with her Odyssey of the Mind team.

Cousins, also 13, has been studying every night, but she knows the English language is far more vast than the word lists that guide her practice.

“I’m worried that the person before me and the person after me get a word that I know how to spell, but I get a word that I don’t know how to spell,” she said.

Cousins and Sprague both say they are visual learners and are good at spelling because they encounter so many words through voracious reading.

Cousins enjoys horror stories, especially Stephen King’s, and is working on one of her own in an apprenticeship with Maine writer Michael Kimball.

Sprague said she’ll read anything but nonfiction and has a special fondness for the teen romances of Sarah Dessen.

Sprague said there has been at least one direct connection between her reading and her success in spelling bees.

“I got ‘cholera’ in the county bee, and I was like, ‘Oh, yes,’ Because I had to read a book that was about a Civil War soldier, and they talked about cholera in it,” Sprague said.

Sprague, who is the daughter of Annette and Michael Sprague, won the Lincoln County Spelling Bee on the word “extraordinarily.”

Cousins lives in Augusta and is the daughter of Jennifer and Edwin Cousins. She won the Kennebec County Spelling Bee by spelling “epilepsy.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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