© Tom Theobald

By Blythe Lawrence

SOFIA, Bulgaria, Sept. 13, 2018 – There was no team huddle, no feel-good movie moment when a goal was articulated aloud and understood by all. There were simply years of hard work — and one important example that, even without talking about it, they all bore in mind.

Four years ago, Jazzy Kerber, Rebecca Sereda and Serena Lu’s performances at the World Rhythmic Gymnastics Championships delivered the U.S. a ninth-place team finish, a proud accomplishment in a sport that was and remains dominated by athletes from Eastern European countries.

For the then up-and-coming junior competitors Camilla Feeley, Evita Griskenas and Laura Zeng, all of whom trained with Kerber at North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics Center in Glenview, Illinois, the competition opened their eyes to the potential of future U.S. teams.

On Thursday, they put the finishing touches on their own defining moment at the World Championships, delivering a seventh-place team finish in Sofia, Bulgaria. The result stands as the highest ever for a U.S. team at a Rhythmic Worlds.

“It’s exciting, it’s awesome,” enthused Griskenas, who contributed four of the 10 routines that counted for Team USA’s 140.925 total, which sandwiched them between Belarus and Japan in the final rankings. As expected, Russia, the dominant factor in the sport since 2000, captured gold, while host Bulgaria finished with silver and Italy took bronze.

“We all came together and we all performed our best,” said Feeley, who hit her routines with the hoop and ball in Sofia in qualification rounds earlier this week to establish the United States as a top-10 contender. Zeng and Griskenas will both compete in Friday’s individual all-around final as well. Zeng finished 11th in the qualification, Griskenas 21st.

For Zeng, who already owns the USA’s premier individual finishes at Worlds, being part of the team that achieved a best-ever finish is special. But she didn’t hesitate to give credit where she felt it was due.

“It was Rebecca and Jazzy and Serena who really paved the way for Team USA,” she said. “They were such role models to look up to when they were training, and we’re just trying to follow their lead.”