Pleasanton native Navina Bernardi returned home from the bocce world championships earlier this spring having surpassed even her own expectations with a fourth-place finish in her first-ever appearance in the tournament that features some of the best bocce players in the world.
"Fourth place was unreal, and people were in shock -- as am I," she said, with a smile on her face during an interview this week. "No one expected this, to be honest. The odds of this were 30-1 probably."
The 20-year-old Bernardi, who went into the world championships in Italy hoping to place in the top 10, played her way to within three points of a spot on the podium.
"Me and my dad went there with the mentality of, 'Well, these women are amazing. We're definitely the underdogs,' which was true," she said. "But after watching them play, I can compete with them."
Bernardi, who recently wrapped up her junior year at the University of Southern California, was the lone American in the women's singles division at the CBI world championships, a week-long tournament held in late-April in Rome for top international competitors in punto, raffa, volo (PRV) -- a form of bocce named for its three distinct shot types.
The lifelong Pleasanton resident was joined on the U.S. team by the country's PRV men's and under-21 singles champions competing in different divisions. Also on hand were Bernardi's coach and father, Dario, as well as family, friends and other supporters.
"It was amazing. You really felt the support from the United States, coming from all around the world," Bernardi said. "They were so nice and so open-hearted toward us."
The tournament opened with the 20 international women separated into four divisions for round-robin play -- with several countries having pulled out before the event. Her opponents ranged in age, including some teenagers and many professionals.
Bernardi began her run with a disappointing 15-11 loss in her first match, against China, on the first day of the competition.
"I think it was a lot of nerves ... I definitely could have beat her," she said of the opening defeat. "Basically after I lost that game, I had to win all of the games in division to maybe make it out of my bracket."
And the Pleasanton native would storm back with those three needed victories, all on the second day. She started with a 15-13 win over the favored Turkish woman and followed with a 15-3 drubbing of France in the day's second match.
Facing a must-win scenario, Bernardi found herself down to Chile 14-12 in her final opening-round match before battling back to take the last three points to earn the 15-14 win.
She finished pool play in a three-way tie for first place with a 3-1 overall record, and she would go on to claim one of her division's two spots in the next round based on the point-differential tiebreaker.
In that round, the remaining eight players were divided into two groups for another round-robin during which Bernardi beat Algeria 15-6 but lost to Switzerland 15-11 and to Argentina 15-10.
Point differential was again in Bernardi's favor, however, and she advanced to the final four as the second seed from her group behind the Swiss player.
Bernardi lost 15-5 to eventual-champion Italy in the semifinal, and then fell short in a tight 15-12 match against the Swiss in the battle for bronze and a spot on the podium.
"Looking back, I'm still super-bummed I didn't get a medal and top-three because I'm just a competitive person," she said, smiling. "But I definitely played my heart out and left it all on the court."