Pleasanton native Navina Bernardi is preparing to don the American red, white and blue against women from across the globe later this month at the bocce world championships in Italy.
"I love it. I'm proud to say I'm the U.S. women's national champion. I'm proud to go to worlds and represent the United States, and continue to grow (the sport)," Bernardi, 20, said during an interview last week at her practice facility, Campo di Bocce of Livermore.
Currently a junior at the University of Southern California, Bernardi qualified for this year's CBI world championships by winning the women's singles title in the punto, raffa, volo (PRV) form of bocce at the U.S. Bocce Federation national tournament in Stockton in 2013.
She is part of an American team also consisting of the U.S. men's and under-21 singles champions, each of whom will compete in separate divisions at the international competition in Rome running from April 19-26.
"It's a mini-Olympics, with an opening ceremony and a closing ceremony, flags, security, the whole nine yards," said Bernardi's coach, her father Dario. "It's just kind of a cool deal -- the national anthem, somebody carries the flag in. There is just no feeling like wearing a USA on your jersey. None."
A lifelong Pleasanton resident, Bernardi attended Vintage Hills Elementary and Pleasanton Middle School before moving onto Carondelet High School in Concord, where she graduated in 2012.
She said she started playing bocce as a middle schooler about eight years ago, soon after Campo di Bocce opened just outside Pleasanton on East Vineyard Avenue near Ruby Hill.
"My brother and my dad started playing, and naturally I kind of followed," Bernardi added. "There are a lot of local tournaments, and having Campo so close with such nice facilities just made it easy and a pastime and enjoyable."
By age 15, "we found out about this game punto, raffa, volo and nationals and a whole other world of bocce. We got pretty competitive around high school," she said of playing as a team with older brother Joey and father Dario.
PRV, a form of bocce named for its three distinctive shot types, appealed to Bernardi's mental and physical competitive spirits.
"It's fun, it's hard, it's always changing," she said. "It's a lot more rules and precision and accuracy, but still the same end goal as normal bocce."
Punto refers to bowling a bocce ball at the smaller target ball (pallino), raffa is a fast-paced shot where players underhand toss the ball trying to knock away a declared object ball, and volo is an underhand shot where players aim to hit a declared object ball on the fly, Bernardi explained.
Bernardi and her family entered the PRV competitive world playing locally at Campo di Bocce, then moving to regional events and then learning about national tournaments.
Her father has represented the U.S. in international competitions against Canada, and her brother Joey took part in the world championships when he was an under-21 player.
Bernardi won a national silver medal about five years ago in ladies' doubles, but her singles win in Stockton in 2013 gave Bernardi her first-ever world championships berth.
Scheduling for the world competition took more time than expected, but the event date was finally announced in January, according to Bernardi.
Since then, she's traveled up to Pleasanton from college at least eight weekends to train and practice with her father.
"It is crazy," Bernardi said, laughing. "I joke around that I'm a commuter student."
"We don't have facilities in Los Angeles like we do here ... it's nothing like we'll see in Italy," she added, pointing out that most courts near USC are oyster shell or dirt as opposed to synthetic, which is the playing surface at Campo di Bocce and at the world championships.
In Rome, Bernardi is set to compete against female bocce players from 23 other countries, some of whom are professionals.
"Many of these countries that is their job," Dario Bernardi said. "The Italians and the Chinese, they'll play five-six hours a day. Obviously, we're up against it, but we're looking forward to the challenge and having some fun and just seeing what happens."
Bernardi won't know her first opponents until the official draw next weekend, but the format is slated to start with round-robin pool play, with the top finishers in each group advancing to the single-elimination playoff round.
"It's really cool to see 24 countries come together in a sport that we love, that has done so much for our family and that we enjoy," she said.
Expected to join Bernardi at the world championships are her parents, friends from the Tri-Valley and Los Angeles, and even a few relatives who live in Italy.
"The waiting is killing me," she said. "Everyone is so excited and sending so much love and support, and that's wonderful. But it's a lot of build-up."
Looking beyond this month's event, Bernardi said she hopes to continue playing bocce at a high level and possibly earn a sponsorship while also working to grow interest in the game in Los Angeles and volunteering in the Special Olympics World Summer Games bocce event this July in LA. She's on track to complete her undergraduate degree from USC's Marshall School of Business next year.
And about the idea of trying to make a living as a professional bocce player, a matter-of-fact Bernardi said,"It's not realistic in the United States. If we were in another country, I'd say it's possible."
As for her first world championship appearance, Bernardi has a clear goal in mind -- advance beyond pool play.
"We're definitely going in as the underdog, but I think a good, realistic goal is top 10. I'd be happy with top 10. We have the skills to compete there; it's just a matter of who's on and who's not," she said.