PANAMA CITY BEACH — Melaina Bryant gazed down at the gilded medal draped around her neck, smiled, looked up and flashed a quick "peace" sign toward the bleachers.


The nerves she had felt walking into the Arnold High School gymnasium just hours before were long gone. Winning a second straight state weightlifting championship will do that for you.


A junior on the Niceville High School weightlifting team, Bryant totaled 415 pounds in the 199-pound weight class Saturday at the 2A Florida High School Girls Weightlifting State Championships in Panama City Beach, easily taking the gold by 15 pounds.


"It feels really good," Bryant said. "Coming into today, I was a little worried ’cause there was two girls with totals close to mine, and I wasn’t sure how today would play out."


The two girls in question — Flagler sophomore Anniel Buchanan and Sunlake senior Antionette Farmer — put up a fight, both totaling 400 pounds. Buchanan even led Bryant by 10 pounds after the bench press, lifting a class-best 225 pounds.


But there’s a reason Bryant walked into the gym Saturday as the defending champ. She’s built for these pressure-packed moments.


Patiently letting the challengers come for her, Bryant was one of the last in her class to attempt her first clean and jerk, starting with 195 pounds; in 2019, she won state with a 180-pound clean and jerk. Buchanan had already finished her lifts, topping out at 175 pounds.


When her barbell clattered to the floor seconds after a swift, clean lift, Bryant was again a state champion, leaping into coach David Hedges arms for a bear hug.


Then she added five more pounds to her total for good measure. Only Oakleaf’s Gabby Willits matched Bryant’s 200-pound clean and jerk.


"I had a whole lot of doubt in myself, which I feel like after today won’t ever happen again," Bryant said. "I remember just thinking ‘I might lose,’ which was kinda scary, but we’re past it now."


Bryant’s performance helped Niceville to an eighth-place finish overall, the Eagles tying Vero Beach with 11 points. Niceville tied for third a year ago.


Elsewhere for the Eagles, senior Kelsey Garrison placed third at 129 pounds with a 335-pound total, five pounds better than she posted this past week at regionals, and junior Darla Joyner finished just off the podium at 119 pounds in seventh place with a 300-pound total.


Niceville qualified 10 lifters to the 2A state meet overall.


"Our program has definitely grown so much as a whole," Bryant said. "I think next year we’re gonna do amazing. There are so many girls with so much potential.


"I think next year is gonna be our year."