Following the 2017 gymnastics season, Sami Durante did not have a place to go.
After the Georgia Gymdogs let go of their head coach, Sami’s mother Danna Durante, Sami wanted to find another place to spend her college career.
About six coaches reached out to Sami, including LSU coaches D-D Breaux and Jay Clark.
“We’ve known Danna for a long time,” Breaux said. “We reached out and said you know we’d love to give her a home here, a place to land. She’s landed here and she’s very happy and thriving.”
Soon after, Clark, who was the head coach at Georgia before Danna, got in touch with her and set up a meeting with Sami. Clark flew out to Georgia to watch Sami work out at her gym and they talked for hours about her plans.
Once she set up her official visit to Baton Rouge, it was a done deal.
“D-D loves this school so much and this team that you can just tell she’s going to take care of you,” Sami Durante said. “She’s going to help you get where you need to go so that was one of the major reasons why I came here.”
While her mother was her coach when she was younger, Sami had no trouble adjusting to a new coach and a new team. Danna and Sami had always tried to seperate the gym from home, so that policy has carried over to college.
If Sami ever asks for any advice, she’ll call her mom for help, but for the most part she tries not to be a helicopter parent.
“[Danna] laughs like ‘I would never dream of telling y’all what to do.’” Breaux said. “She’s very happy that her daughter’s here and being loved, not only her physical wellbeing but her emotional wellbeing is being taken well care of.”
Of all the schools that offered Sami after her release from Georgia, Danna was really pushing for LSU. Danna has a good relationship with Clark and knew that she would be taken care of, both physically and emotionally, in Baton Rouge.
Making a last minute decision to come to LSU, one of the most electrifying venues in college gymnastics, would have been intimidating to almost anyone else, but Sami took it all in stride.
Sami was in awe at the season opener at the shear amount of people present in the PMAC. The 10,755 people in the PMAC was the largest opening crowd in school history and the largest crowd Sami had ever performed in front of in her life.
“It was so crazy,” Sami said. “There’s just so many people. I’ve been to lots of college meets in my life, but I’ve never been like on the floor like that so it was crazy and so much fun. The team’s been very helpful at calming me down and letting me know how it works and stuff.”
As a freshman, Sami has fit seamlessly into an LSU bars lineup that is ranked second in the nation. In the leadoff position, she is averaging 9.87 with a career high a 9.90 twice this season.
While most people focus on the anchor position, Breaux emphasizes the importance every spot in the lineup. The first two spots set the momentum that carries over to the rest of the lineup.
“I never thought that I would be in the lineup, let alone first,” Sami said. “In club, I always wanted to go first and first was my favorite spot so I was kind of used to it but not all the pressure that comes with it.”
Sami has secured that leadoff spot in the lineup like junior all-arounder Erin Macadaeg on beam and junior all-arounder Sarah Finnegan on vault and Breaux says she can’t see that changing.
The progress she’s made as a freshman is that much more impressive because she’s coming off two recent surgeries. After tearing her ACL about two years ago, Sami had to get another scope on the same knee about four months before the season.
“Once we got that done, she was back in the gym in two weeks, which was absolutely remarkable,” Breaux said. “She just hasn’t missed a step. She’s chomping at the bits to do more but we really can’t afford to let her do more, we really just need to keep her leg strong and sturdy.
Because of that recovery, Sami will likely be limited to bars for her freshman season, but she is making steady progress on bars and beam.
Breaux has no doubt that Sami will make her way into more lineups in the coming years as she continues to improve each week.
“She’s got the eye of the tiger,” Breaux said. “When you look at that face and you see she doesn’t say a lot, but when she mounts that equipment, you know you’re fixing to see handstands and great execution. You look at her face before she gets on those bars, and it’s piercing. ”