Seventeen Illinois students were in the contest at the start of the spelling on Wednesday.
Pranav Sivakumar of Barrington Middle School, Piper Wynne Winkler of Elgin Academy, Alia Abiad of McClure Junior High in Western Springs and Lucas Urbanski of Immanuel Lutheran School in Crystal Lake will take the stage Thursday afternoon.
They and the others tallied the most points in a formula that combined Wednesday's onstage rounds with a Tuesday computer test that included a section on vocabulary for the first time.
The finals are set for Thursday night. The winner of the 86th spelling bee gets $30,000 in cash and prizes and a huge trophy.Speller No. 58, Alia Abiad Commonwealth Edison, Chicago, Illinois Age 13, 7th grade School: McClure Junior High School Hometown: Western Springs, Illinois RESULTS Alia plays violin in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra and was a member of her school's Math Olympiad team, which took first place in the area Math Olympiad in 2010, 2011 and 2012. She is a member of the school book club and is a three-time winner of the District 101 Award for Exemplary Writing. Alia would like to become a cardiologist, pursuing a career in medicine like both her parents. She has two pet rats named Posy and Peanut, and her role model is her 96-year-old great grandmother Virginia, who inspires Alia with her perpetual optimism and humor. Alia is competing in her first Scripps National Spelling Bee.
Speller No. 60, Lucas Urbanski
Northwest Herald, Crystal Lake, Illinois
Age 13, 7th grade
School: Immanuel Lutheran School
Hometown: Crystal Lake, Illinois
Lucas is a founding member of the Northern Illinois Yo-Yo Club, and can perform a variety of amazing tricks. He likes playing basketball and volleyball and also enjoys playing handbells and reading, especially the Harry Potter series. Lucas enjoys trivia, and participates in the Academic Bowl at his school. He is two-time defending champion of his school's National Geographic Bee and advanced to the Illinois state competition for the first time this year. Lucas is competing in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the third time, previously participating in 2011 and 2012. His experience at the Bee earned him a spot as a celebrity guest at a local performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Speller No. 64, Pranav Sivakumar
Lake County Regional Office of Education, Grayslake, Illinois
Age 13, 8th grade
School: Barrington Middle School - Station Campus
Hometown: Tower Lakes, Illinois
Pranav studied Latin for several years, and when he's learning new words, he finds it helps to make connections to this classical language. He loves the sciences, especially astronomy and astrophysics. This year, he won best research paper and best-in-category project in astronomy in the junior division of the Illinois Junior Academy of Science. Astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar is Pranav's role model because the scientist wasn't afraid to stand up to the establishment and made key discoveries about massive stars. When not studying space, Pranav enjoys watching cricket, especially batsman Sachin Tendulkar. His favorite book is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and he spends a lot of time watching the night sky and wondering what it would be like to travel among the stars. This is Pranav's third consecutive appearance in the Scripps National Spelling Bee; he tied for 27th place in 2011 and for 22nd place in last year's competition.
Speller No. 69, Piper Winkler
Kane County Chronicle, Saint Charles, Illinois
Age 14, 8th grade
School: Elgin Academy
Hometown: Geneva, Illinois
Piper loves science, especially neuroscience, and reading pre-modern classics, such Plato's The Republic or anything by William Shakespeare. She is also active in theater and is currently the stage manager for her school's production of School House Rock Live! In addition to musical theater, she plays the piano and has been invited to play in the Achievement in Music recital for the past four years. Her role model is her Tae Kwon Do instructor Vicky, because she teaches students to believe in themselves and to stand up for what is right. Piper owns a Portuguese Water Dog named Sirius and loves listening to Mozart. In her free time, she volunteers as a docent for the local historical society.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.