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Aeriana Valdez isn’t unfamiliar with the world of pageantry.

In 2013, her sister, Cassondra (Willis) Weverka, was crowned Miss Nebraska Teen USA in Overland Park, Kansas. And now, the Lakeview High School senior has some hardware of her own after winning her state portion of the USA National Miss Iowa-Nebraska Competition held Feb. 15-17 in Omaha.

Following her victory, Valdez is preparing to head to Orlando, Florida, in July to compete in a larger national competition facing pageant winners from all 50 states, with one eventually being crowned the grand champion.

Prior to competing in Omaha, Valdez said she first took the stage in June 2018. Her first pageant went well - she placed fourth runner-up in the photogenic category and top-10 overall.

“I’ve had interest in it for a long time,” Valdez said of pageantry. “I just never really had the courage to do it, and then my dad actually went ahead and signed me up to do it and then just told me when we had the first meeting. So, I had to go to the meeting to see if they actually wanted me in the pageant.”

In Omaha, Valdez said the competition wasn’t too large but was definitely fierce. The pageant consisted of a speaking portion before a panel of judges, then a runway section sporting a flowing dress followed by a gown competition.

Being crowned on the final day, Valdez said she was pretty surprised. She’d been pretty anxious for the duration of the pageant.

“It was pretty nerve-racking because the stage wasn’t set up super well, so it was kind of uneven and on carpet,” she said. “So when I was walking up there I was like, ‘Oh gosh, don’t fall.’”

Valdez said she will retain her title until the next competition is hosted by the pageant sponsor in 2020. With the Omaha competition in the rear view, all of her attention is on preparing for Orlando this summer.

“There will be roughly about 60 people, they take one (winner) from each state in her teen division and then they all compete against each other,” said Aeriana’s mother, Pamela Valdez.

Valdez said she knows she has some things to work on - like not being so stiff with her arms while posing and perhaps wearing some brighter outfits to catch judges’ eyes.

More importantly, though, she and her family are in the process of raising funds for the trip, which is expected to be about $4,000. Heading into the Omaha competition, Valdez and her mother garnered support from about a dozen local sponsors offsetting some of the expense.

Pamela Valdez said her daughter has been very proactive about reaching out to potential sponsors during the duration of this entire pageant process.

“She's made a real effort to contact some sponsors, she does a lot of the work herself,” Pamela Valdez said. “Yeah, I do help her, and I think that’s the mom instinct in me just kicking into gear to get things rolling, but she’s worked (very hard).”

With about four months to refine her act and presentation, Valdez said she’s optimistic about how she can do during her upcoming Florida pageant.

“My goal is (to place) at least top-15 for sure,” Valdez said. “I just want to work hard and make sure my interview is good and just make sure I have the walk down and everything to get to that top-15. Of course, winning would be nice, but top-15 would be amazing.”

Those interested in learning more about Aeriana’s pageant journey or looking to support her Florida pageant trip are encouraged to reach out to Pamela Valdez at 402-606-9116, or visit USA National Nebraska Miss Teen at gofundme.com.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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