Twenty-three-year-old Ashley Mendez has a new title to add to her resume. On Saturday night, the Sonoma State University senior was named Miss Napa County 2011.

Mendez won the crown and $550 in scholarship money in a joint competition with Miss Solano in Vacaville. Napa Valley College student Stacey Smarker was named first runner-up in the Miss Napa County pageant.

This was the fourth year that Mendez has competed in Miss Napa County.

“Last year I didn’t place at all,” she said. Hearing her name called as winner, “I was just in shock,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe I won.’”

The win is even more poignant for Mendez this year.

“My mom recently passed away from lung cancer,” she said. “For me it wasn’t just winning the title. It was like my mom was watching me from above.”

Mendez said she almost didn’t enter Miss Napa County this year.

“It’s a huge time commitment,” she said. “I was thinking, I’ve done it for three years already, maybe I should call it quits. I’m going to graduate in May. Maybe I’ll take it easy this semester. But I’m passionate about this. I can’t just give up.”

There almost wasn’t a Miss Napa County 2011, Mendez said. A decrease in funding, volunteers and sponsorships nearly caused the program to be canceled. Luckily, organizers of Miss Solano agreed to combine the two pageants, she said.

“I want the program to keep going,” Mendez said. “I think it’s really important to keep awarding young, intelligent women scholarships.” 

This summer, Mendez will compete with other preliminary winners for the title of Miss California.

Miss Napa County 2011 contestants were Stacey Smarker, Rebekah Bunger, Stephanie Vasquez, Gaby Aguayo, Noeli Cardenas and Ashley Mendez.

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