LOUISVILLE -- Francesca Perini walked down the award stage steps and flashed a wide smile.
She and her Barry University women's golf team had just accepted the fourth place trophy at the NCAA Division II National Championships Saturday. And what a feeling it was.
To know that these Buccaneers, ranked sixth in the nation in the latter stretches of the season, had qualified for the national tournament was one thing. But to perform well enough to take home the hardware was quite another.
Mind you, this was a group of one junior and four freshmen -- all of whom had no concept of team golf prior to arriving at Barry. And one of them was introduced to the concept in January. Five months later, the Bucs beam proudly on the national stage.
The Buccaneers shot 323 in the final round at the 6,283-yard Persimmon Ridge Golf Course designed not for the timid. Barry's 1,284 four-day total was 11 strokes behind third place Grand Canyon. Nova Southeastern won the title, shooting 1,234 -- 20 strokes lower than second place Florida Southern.
Daniela Murray, Barry's 21-year-old freshman who was brought to Miami Shores in January, posted the best round of the day with a 7-over 79. She dropped in seven par putts on the front nine, including four in a row.
"We're one senior and four sophomores now," Murray said afterward.
Taylor Babcock, the senior-in waiting, had two birdies on her way to a final round 80. Babcock birdied the 334-yard 10th and the 354-yard 16th. Her approach shot from the fairway on 16 landed just below the ridge and spun back toward the pin within four feet of the cup. Babcock sank the putt before receiving a chorus of cheers from her Barry gallery just outside the green.
Babcock finished tied for 25th, shooting 322 in the four-day tournament.
Nancy Vergara shot 81, birdieing the 382-yard second hole, and ran off four consecutive pars on the front nine. She had five birdies in the tournament. Vergara finished tied for 29th.
Paola Grande capped her final round with an 83. She and Murray tied for 33rd at 326. Perini shot 88 Saturday, and finished tied for 44th at 334.
Nova Southeastern's Abbey Gittings won the individual title, shooting 10-over 298. She closed with a 1-over 73. Teammates Lilliana Cammisa and Daniela Ortiz tied for third at 301. UNC-Pembroke's Meghan Moore was second after shooting par in the final round to cap the event at 12-over 300.
"We improved every day," Murray said.
Indeed, they're not freshmen anymore.