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They say three’s a crowd, but that’s not the case for a trio of local young women.

Sarah Rutan, Maggie Stewart and Katelyn Bruce are counting on the odds being in their favor as they head off to the Miss California pageant, held June 25 to 28 in Fresno.

All three have landed titles making them eligible to become Miss California 2008.

That’s not all they have in common. At one time or another, Rutan, Stewart and Bruce have been Miss Napa County.

Rutan, 20, is Miss Napa County 2008, having won the title in February. It will be her first trip to the Miss California pageant.

“I’m expecting it to be a big learning experience,” said Rutan, a senior at San Jose State University.

“I’ve been working out to make sure I’m in shape” for the swimsuit competition, and watching the news to be familiar with current events, she said.

Besides practicing her comedic vocal performance, there’s also been a lot of shopping. In addition to packing a week’s worth of competition outfits and gowns, Rutan said she’s also bringing “a good attitude and a lot of sleep before the week because we will be very busy,” said Rutan.

The pageant not only includes rehearsals but also lunches, appearances and other events.

“I feel good,” said Rutan. “I look at it like I’m competing against myself. I will go in there and do the very best that I can.”

Naturally, “I would love to be Miss California,” she said.

What if she won? “It’s a full-time job. I’d take a year off of school if I became Miss California.”

And another thing. There is only one crown found at the Miss California pageant — the Miss California crown itself. All other headpieces stay home, said Rutan. Instead of their crowns? “We all wear sashes,” said Rutan.

This is the third, and final, Miss California competition for Maggie Stewart, the veteran of the group. Besides winning Miss Napa County in 2006, and Miss Northern California Regional 2007, Stewart is Miss Northern Counties 2008, making her eligible to compete in Fresno. But she’s about to “age out” of the organization, which caps participation at age 24.

“This could be the end of my pageant career or I could become Miss California. I’m ready for either one,” said Stewart.

“I’m calm about it. I’m focused,” said the student, who attends Sacramento State University.

“I know what to expect and what’s going on.”

Stewart has the benefit of having made the trip to Fresno twice already.

“The first year you are overwhelmed, excited and don’t know what to expect. The second year you know what works and what doesn’t. You feel like you have somewhat of a leg up but you don’t necessarily,” she said.

“This is my third time, my last time, and I’m going out with a bang. Above all I just need to have fun and enjoy the experience,” said Stewart.

Hours of hard work and travel have paid off. Stewart said she received $2,000 in scholarship money from competing in Miss California over the past two years.

“My estimate for all my pageant career has been about $15,000. Most of that was thanks to Miss Napa County,” she said.

This is Katelyn Bruce’s second trip to Miss California. The Miss Napa County 2005 attends this year after winning the title Miss Yosemite Valley 2008.

“I’m hoping to do my best,” said Bruce, 22, who recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz.

“Of course I would love to win the title, but outside of that just have a great experience and meet a lot of people.”

What would she do if she won?

“I would start preparing day one for Miss America. Not only would I be preparing for the pageant but also to help support the Miss America system,” said Bruce. The newly-crowned Miss California competes for the national title in January.

“It’s a program I deeply support I’d just love to be an ambassador for them.”

According to Mary Jean Bruce, co-executive director of the Miss Napa County program, it’s the first time that three women from Napa County are competing in Miss California at the same time.

“They are all wonderful girls that have very unique qualities,” each still active in the Miss Napa County program, said Bruce.

The executive director also happens to be Katelyn Bruce’s mother, which naturally makes her even more excited about the event.

“As a mom, this is much more relaxing than when (Katelyn) was just 19 and Miss Napa County. It’s great there are so many people to root for,” said Bruce.

“If one (of the three) won — that would be exciting. I think I’ll be excited for whoever (wins) this year.”

Fifty-five young women from all over California will travel to Fresno in hopes of taking home the title on June 28.

“I honestly don’t think anyone can predict who will be Miss California this year,” said Bruce.

“This is going to be a very exciting contest.”

Napa County’s Outstanding Teen, Cindy Huynh, 16, will also travel to Fresno as she vies to win the Miss California Outstanding Teen title, awarded June 27.

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