By SCOTT PESZNECKER
It was an evening that won't be forgotten for several young women of Calaveras County.
Beneath a bright, full moon that had been eclipsed most of the night, Arnold resident Crystal Jennings was crowned as this year's Miss Calaveras. Hours earlier, Mokelumne Hill resident Pauli Greer won the Calaveras Saddle Queen competition.
As fireworks exploded in the nighttime sky, an overwhelmed Jennings tried to convey the feeling of having just achieved her childhood dream.
"Oh my gosh wow," she said. She stood before the crowd in a deep red evening gown, clutching a bouquet of matching roses. "I was speechless. I didn't believe it.
"This feels so surreal right now."
Sara Van Lieshout of Valley Springs was named first runner-up, and Arnold resident Maiyan Orvis was second runner-up.
"It's kind of dreamish, kind of fairy tale-ish," Van Lieshout said of her experience. "I'm on top of the world."
Spectators packed the main stage bleachers for the evening's Miss Calaveras pageant.
The candidates opened the show with dances to "California Girls" and "YMCA," in which they were joined by last year's Miss Calaveras Heather Hjelmervik.
Then the competition began.
First, the young women modeled vintage swimsuits. Then, each was given a chance to show off a talent. Amanda Menezes of Copperopolis did a line dance. Valley Springs resident Tanya Dirks, wearing a red dress, sang the sultry Peggy Lee hit "Fever." Murphys resident Krystal Stepps set up palm trees and a surfboard as a backdrop to her hula dance. Jennings used her gymnastics skills to dance to a high-flying rendition of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive."
"Once the audience started cheering, I did the best I could do," Jennings said. "That's all I can do."
Van Lieshout said the hardest part about the pageant was getting so close to the other women, then seeing only three people be crowned.