For the second time, Ralston High School senior Geri Smieja will get the chance to represent Nebraska at the National American Miss pageant.

Smieja was crowned 2017 National American Miss Nebraska Teen Cover Girl at the state pageant on March 18 at the Hotel RL in Omaha, where she received her state crown, banner and trophy. Smieja also was selected first runner-up in top model, photogenic spokesmodel and academic achievement; second runner-up in talent and runway model; and fourth runner-up in casual wear.

Smieja will now compete in the National American Miss national pageant in November in Anaheim, Calif., which she participated in 2015 after being crowned National American Miss Nebraska Junior Teen Cover Girl in 2015.

At the state competition, the state queen, Cover Girl and the queen’s four runners-up all are invited to nationals. Along with the regular pageant competitions, the Cover Girl contest is also based on the number of advertisements sold for the pageant program book.

Growing up, Smieja said she considered herself a tomboy and had little interest in competing in pageants, despite the fact that her mother would often receive invitations in the mail.

Seven years ago, she relented, and decided to see what competing would be like. To her surprise, Smieja realized just how much she enjoyed competing in pageants. Throughout the competitions, her favorite part has been the friends she’s made and the people she’s met.

“Ever since then I’ve liked it because I’ve gotten to meet new people and make new friends,” Smieja said.

Smieja first started competing in National American Miss six years ago, which she chose because of the pageant’s categories, which doesn’t have a fitness competition.

“It doesn’t really have a fitness competition, so it’s based on community service, personal introductions, formal wear and interview,” Smieja said.

For her community service portion of the contest, Smieja donated two boxes of books to Lydia House in Omaha, which provides emergency services to women and families in need.

When Smieja was announced as the Teen Cover Girl during the competition, what she was most excited about was the chance to return to Disneyland, which she visited in 2015.

During her last trip, Smieja toured the amusement park wearing her crown, helping her fit in with many of the Disney princesses. The tour also included shutting down Sleeping Beauty Castle for a group photo with the other pageant winners. Walking around Disneyland wearing her crown, Smieja could see the impact she had on the young girls around her.

“I had little girls running up to me saying, ‘Oh, can we get a picture with you?’” Smieja said. “It kind of made my day.”

Smieja spent months practicing for the interview and personal statement at state, where contestants have only 30 seconds to present themselves to the audience, which she will continue to perfect for nationals. She also practiced her walk in high heels for the runway. To succeed in a beauty pageant, however, confidence is key.

“Make sure you’re in touch with yourself, you’re truthful and ready to speak on stage in front of 100 people,” Smieja said.

Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.