The youngest finalist in the 74th annual state spelling bee left the written portion of the competition in tears.

Little did she know the other participants struggled, as well, and she would go on to place 20th out of 285 on Saturday at the Colorado Convention Center.

Returning participants said this year's bee was harder than ever.

For the first time, contestants were faced with a 15-word vocabulary test in addition to a written spelling exam before they could take part in the oral competition.

Just 34 of the pre-qualified spellers passed those 8:30 a.m. tests at the convention center.

Last year, with no vocabulary test, 40 of 245 kids made it past the written spelling exam. The written spelling test, which was 50 words long in 2013, was cut to 30 words this year.

Cheyenne Trujillo, an 8-year-old three grades behind the next-youngest finalist, said she was surprised to finish 20th, not because she's in third grade but because definitions are harder to memorize than spellings and word roots.

A multiple-choice vocabulary test was added last year to the Scripps National Spelling Bee after the Colorado bee had taken place. Since then, organizers of state bees have included the new portion of the pre-qualifying exam, said Carol Cline, project manager of the Colorado bee.

The written portion failed to trip up Alex Jurich, 13, who won first place in Round 31 on the word "diptych."

Alex, an eighth-grader at Denver's Hamilton Middle School, defeated Roshini Narayanan, also 13, after four rounds in which either speller had the opportunity to grab the championship. Cline said it had been several years since the Colorado bee had seen such excitement.

In the end, Alex missed a total of two words. Roshini missed four.

It was Alex's third year competing in the statewide bee. He placed 15th as a sixth-grader and third last year.

His twin sister, Evie, was all smiles after Alex grabbed the title. She also made it to the finals and will help her brother study for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which begins May 25 in Washington, D.C.

"I'm just going to try to memorize anything in the dictionary I can," Alex said with a subtle, confident smile.