*PRINT ONLY* Sports 20

HEADLINE: A Laker legend

SUBHEAD: Muscaro to represent GVSU, U.S. at world championships

By Adam Knorr

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Moriah Muscaro is quick to give praise anywhere she finds deserving. She raves about Grand Valley State University, the marching band, the pep band, the dance team, band director John Martin, the fans and anyone else she can think of. The one person Muscaro rarely talks up is herself.

But when it comes to the aesthetic sport of baton twirling, few have more to be proud of.

Muscaro, 21, is the GVSU Feature Twirler. She’s a common sight at GVSU football and basketball games, wowing the crowd with her contorting, mystifying routines. GVSU Athletics, across the board, tends to be full of championship teams. Although Muscaro is a one-woman show, the results are no different from such dominating squads. In fact, her accolades may be even more impressive.

Muscaro is the 2014 Collegiate Grand National Twirling Champion. The event spans NCAA Divisions I, II and III, taking in the top twirlers from around the country. It was Allendale’s twirler, however, that rose above the field to claim twirling’s equivalent of a national championship.

“She has brought the program to a whole new level,” Martin said. “We’re very blessed to have someone of her caliber with us… She provides excitement and complements us greatly.”

It doesn’t end there. Muscaro recently fulfilled a lifelong dream, qualifying to represent the U.S. at the World Baton Twirling Championships in Lignano Sabbiadoro, Italy in April 2015. Muscaro earned a top-three finish in a field of 74 to earn the right to represent both GVSU and her country in the international competition.

Despite all of her accolades and shining skill, it’s not winning that drives Muscaro to strive for success.

“I love the thrill that I get while performing,” she said. “It’s not so much about what I get through performing, it’s about what I see on other people’s faces. I love when they’re excited and into my performance.”

Often, those fans include Muscaro’s family. Fitting, considering that family got her into twirling in the first place. Her mother, both grandmothers and a host of aunts all twirled as well. Her mother was the University of Mount Union Feature Twirler while one of her aunts held the same title at the University of Cincinnati.

Muscaro’s mom got Moriah started in twirling when she was 5, although the craft didn’t immediately take for the future Laker. Muscaro didn’t truly become enamored with twirling until she took home her first state championship at 11 years old. Since then, Muscaro has slammed on the throttle to success.

Coming out of high school, Muscaro had a wealth of options in continuing her twirling career. The University of Michigan, Miami University (Ohio) and the University of Illinois all showed interest, but GVSU ultimately claimed the prize. Not because of its twirling pedigree, but because of academics.

“Twirling is this amazing added bonus and I definitely wanted to twirl in college, but academics are what’s going to take me far in life,” she said. “The more I’ve gone to Grand Valley, the more I’ve fallen in love with it.”

A biomedical sciences major and Honors College member, she was enticed by the draw of GVSU’s medical resources and downtown access to Medical Mile. For Muscaro, GVSU meant a place where she could showcase her twirling skill and grow in her knowledge. For GVSU, Muscaro meant a revitalized twirling program – one that will continue to blossom following her departure.

She and Martin have been working closely to find a suitable replacement for her when she graduates after the winter semester. Muscaro has essentially built a powerhouse program through her own incredible skill, and although she will be nigh impossible to replace, the hope is that the program will continue to abide by a standard of performance just like any other GVSU sport.

Finding top-notch twirlers who are willing to come to a Division II school can be a challenge, but Muscaro wouldn’t trade her experiences at GVSU for a diamond-encrusted baton.

“I twirled Division II and I loved every minute of it,” she said. “The unique opportunities it gives me have been quite amazing, so right now we’re working on showing that to other twirlers out there.”

One such opportunity comes in the form of performance frequency for Muscaro.

Not only does she perform with the marching band at every home football game, but Muscaro also displays her routines at GVSU’s home basketball games. Twirling competitions take place on a gym floor, so Muscaro is able to twirl in the manner that she has become accustomed, as opposed to fighting Michigan wind and snow every football season.

The talents of Muscaro, the GVSU marching band, the football team and a host of other performers will be on display on Saturday at 7 p.m. as the Lakers host Lake Erie College.