North Bay’s Jessa Carmack is crowned Miss California 2016 in Fresno

Jessa Carmack is strong, beautiful, talented and gracious. And as of Saturday night at the Saroyan Theatre in Fresno, the 22-year-old Santa Clara native is Miss California 2016.

Winning the crown sparked an overwhelming whirlwind of emotions for Carmack.

The new Miss California described her feelings 10 minutes afterward with a combination of stress noises and words from her heart: “Aghhhhh! This whole week I’ve been saying ‘eesh eesh eesh,’ but I’m so incredibly grateful and proud to be representing the state of California and I cannot wait for my year to come.”

And Carmack already is preparing mentally for the challenges yet to come at the Miss America competition in Atlantic City in September.

“Of course, there are going to be nerves, but these next few months are going to be fast-paced and I’m excited to get to Atlantic City,” Carmack said. “I feel like I’ve been preparing for the job of Miss California since day one, being myself. I was Miss California’s Outstanding Teen in 2011, so I do have the experience. I’ve worked with this organization before, so I think I can handle it. I’m very excited to take on the challenges.”

The San Jose State University graduate studied public relations and communications. To lower her college costs, she graduated in 3 1/2 years. The $20,000 scholarship she received as Miss California will help pay off her loans and fund a portion of graduate studies.

Carmack’s love affair with the Miss America organization goes back seven years, when she was 15. She has been Miss Santa Clara’s Outstanding Teen, Miss California’s Outstanding Teen, a top 10 finalist for Miss California and now, Miss California.

Her first act of celebration will be small: “Take off these shoes, is what I’m going to do. I almost wish I changed my shoes prior to this.” But without the heels, the gymnast stands 5 feet 3 inches, so she said she appreciates the extra height.

Next, she will spend time with her friends and family.

“I know that these next months are going to be fast-paced and chaotic preparing for Miss America,” Carmack said. “Any chance I get, I want to thank my friends and family because without them I wouldn’t be able to be where I am today.”

Carmack plans to use her new crown to boost her ability to reach Californians with her platform, Building a Healthy Future. Carmack is passionate about fitness: She has danced and done gymnastics since age 8 and received two preliminary awards in the fitness category at the Miss California competition.

She hopes to travel to every city in the state to spread the word of her healthy platform. And her goal is to motivate Californians to raise the most money of any state for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, the Miss America Organization’s nonprofit partner.

Even though she has a new title, Carmack’s most valuable lesson from the competition is being herself.

“Today, when I did my onstage question I truly thought to myself, ‘Wow, did I just say that?’ but it’s because I was myself and I think I did something right … so just be yourself the whole time.”

First runner-up was Katie Wayland, Miss Southern Coast, who won a $7,500 scholarship; second runner-up, Miss Orange Coast Izamar Olaguez ($5,000 scholarship); third runner-up, Miss Bay Area Julianna Johnson ($4,000 scholarship); and fourth runner-up, Miss Yosemite Valley Heidi Cheung ($3,500 scholarship).

Wayland wasn’t afraid to get political during her onstage question, which was about gun control in the wake of the Orlando, Fla., nightclub shooting.

“There’s plenty of legislation in place in order to take care of problems like that,” said Wayland, who comes from a military and gun-owning family. “In order to get rid of the gun epidemic that’s happening right now, it’s a matter of keeping each other responsible.” She cited the shooter’s wife, who did not report her husband despite knowing his plan. “It’s on all of us to make sure these things don’t happen, as unfortunate as they are.”

Cheung, an Oracle employee, talked about the benefits and drawbacks of technology. She said the technology she sells improves the performances of other companies and thus the lives of their employees.

“In another case, where technology is now consuming our lives and maybe even affecting the self-esteem of young girls, it’s not good,” Cheung said. “I think that we need to have a balance: We need to use technology for what it’s good for, and we need to not use technology when it’s not appropriate.”

Carmack wasn’t the only contestant to take a top prize in Fresno over the weekend.

Miss Garden Grove’s Outstanding Teen Jenna Tower’s mouth formed a big “O” when she heard her name called Friday night.

After a week of fierce competition, Tower was crowned Miss California’s Outstanding Teen 2016 at the Saroyan. The student at Pacifica High School performed a roller skating routine to the Christina Aguilera tune “Car Wash” and represented her platform, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She received a $14,664 scholarship.

Miss California’s Outstanding Teen 2015 Avery Grooms, a graduate of Clovis North High School, crowned Tower.

Related: Avery Grooms, Miss California’s Outstanding Teen 2015, talks fitness following Miss Teen USA’s decision to ditch swimwear

Colby Bladow, Miss Yorba Linda’s Outstanding Teen, was first runner-up; the second runner-up was Nikki Ke’haulani Holbrook, Miss Sacramento County’s Outstanding Teen. Miss Placentia’s Outstanding Teen Asha Bhattacharya was third runner-up, and McKenna Faydo, County of San Diego’s Outstanding Teen, was fourth runner-up.

JoAnna Kroeker: 559-441-6247, @jobethkroeker