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Baton twirlers from all over show off their stuff at Harford international event

Maryland’s Laney Puhalla and Michael Lopez, of San Antonio, won the 23rd annual Congressional Cup Invitational baton twirling championship, held this year in the APG Federal Credit Union Arena at Harford Community College, and they will go on to the world twirling championships later this month in Lillehammer, Norway.

“It’s such a huge honor,” Puhalla, 17, of Bowie, said after winning the invitational finals Sunday.

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Lopez, 23 and the men’s champion, competed in the world twirling championships in Italy in 2015 and brought home silver and bronze medals.

“It would be nice to go over there [to Norway] and actually win it, make our country proud,” Lopez said.

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The World Federation of National Baton Twirling Associations, or WFNBTA, will hold its world championship in Norway March 28 to April 1, according to the association’s website.

Puhalla and Lopez were among about 300 youth, teen and young adult male and female twirlers from around the U.S. and Canada who competed during the Congressional Cup Weekend Saturday and Sunday at HCC.

The events are usually held Mt. St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, but were held at the HCC arena this year.

“The facility has been mind-blowingly great,” Lindsay Pedersen, assistant director of the Congressional Cup Weekend, said Sunday. “I would recommend it to anybody.”

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More than 60 participants in the Congressional Cup Weekend, including Puhalla and Lopez, who had already qualified for the world championships in Norway through the National Baton Twirling Association championships in July 2017 in South Bend, Ind., according to Pedersen.

The Congressional Cup Weekend included an open tournament, a clinic and the invitational competition. The open tournament for all twirlers, which has been around for more than 40 years, was Saturday.

The tournament winners included Juvenile: Kylah Lewis, of Glen Burnie; Preteen: Angelina Wang, of Wisconsin; and Elite Twirl-Off Champions Ally Duda, of New Market, Julee Stewart, of Canada, and Connor Rudd, of Virginia. Stewart also earned the Adam Kramer Award, presented to the top athlete in either the Senior or Men’s division who “best represents what Congressional Cup is all about,” Pedersen wrote in an email Monday.

Competition officials also put on a twirling clinic starting Sunday morning. The preliminary rounds for the invitational, which is only open to elite twirlers, began Saturday evening. The finals were Sunday afternoon. Competitors twirled their batons while performing dance routines, and they tossed their batons high into the air, so high that they twisted among the arena rafters.

“That’s the [trait] of an elite twirler, is being able to adjust to any type of setting,” Lopez said of dealing with the rafters and the risk of getting a baton caught in them.

Lopez is a senior at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He has been twirling since age 14.

Puhalla, the Congressional Cup Invitational champion, said she has been twirling since she was 2. Her mother, Christie Puhalla, has also twirled. Laney is a member of the Wheaton Dance/Twirl Teams in Montgomery County, and she is a sophomore at Anne Arundel Community College.

“I love the thrill of the performance,” she said. “It’s really fun to get out there and put on a show.”

Maryland baton twirling teams, including the Dynamics, of Elkridge in Howard County, Wheaton Dance/Twirl and TwirlTasTix Baton Twirling Team, of Bel Air, were among the performers.

About 23 TwirlTasTix members, from ages 3 to 23, competed, according to team director Christine Zoll.

Her team was not invited to compete in the invitational, but several TwirlTasTix performers took home prizes in the all-around championship, part of the open competitions on Saturday.

All-around competitors performed routines with one baton, two batons and an X-strut, a dance routine involving a baton but no tossing, according to Zoll.

Jocelyn Kruger won beginner preteen for the all-around championship, Meghan Zoll took second place in intermediate preteen and Hannah Fender won third place in beginner junior, according to Zoll.

TwirlTasTix performs in local parades such as Bel Air’s Independence Day and Christmas parades, and they performed on the national stage during the inaugural festivities for President Donald Trump in January 2017. The team took part in the “Voices of the People” concert near the Lincoln Memorial the day before Trump was sworn in.

Zoll said Sunday TwirlTasTix participates in the Congressional Cup on a regular basis. She said her team saw competitors from Canada and across the U.S. from states such as New York, Wisconsin, Florida, Texas and Ohio over the weekend.

She said such competitions help her team members “sharpen their skills.”

“It’s tough, but it’s really a blessing... we get to have the best of the best right here,” Zoll said.

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