Theresa Vail and Ashley Ulmer win preliminary awards.

Theresa Vail proved that a soldier can sing opera when she captured the preliminary talent award at Thursday's preliminary competition of the Miss Kansas Pageant. The 22-year-old, competing as Miss Leavenworth County, is a student at Kansas State University and a member of the Kansas Army National Guard. She performed "Nessun Dorma" from the opera Turandot that is written for a male vocalist — fitting for a contestant whose platform is about empowering young women through male-dominant activities.

Vail is a newcomer to the Miss Kansas Pageant, but has participated in other pageant systems.

Sharing the spotlight was Ashley Ulmer, 24 of Whitewater, who won the preliminary swimsuit award, in a deep pink two-piece suit. Representing the Miss Butler County pageant, her goal is to own and operate a dinner theater. The preliminary award was her first in four years on the Miss Kansas stage.

She also won a couple of special cash awards, one for recruiting at least five Sunflower Princesses, and another for supporting the Miss Kansas Organization in a variety of ways that included recruiting young girls to the program, selling salute pages in the program book and raising at least $1,000 for the Children's Miracle Network, the signature project of the Miss America Organization.

The evening began with Miss Kansas 2009 Becki Ronen Walenz performing the national anthem on the trumpet and included appearances by former titleholders, Karen Schwartz Angle (1963), Jane Schulte Goodheart (1973), who sang "God Bless the USA" and Angelea Busby (2003).

Michael Schwanke, co-anchor and investigative reporter for KWCH Channel 12 in Wichita, served as master of ceremonies.

The second preliminary competition begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Pratt Community College Lesh Sports Arena. Saturday's Tribune will include a story about both preliminaries, leading up to the final competition on Saturday night.

A Miss Kansas Parade begins at 10 a.m. Saturday on Main Street, followed by an autograph session, with contestant tables in front of Main Street businesses.