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Sami Durante joins forces with her mother in new role as gymnastics assistant coach

UNC gymnastics assistant coach Sami Durante poses for a portrait before the intrasquad meet at Carmichael Arena on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.

When Sami Durante committed to Georgia gymnastics in eighth grade, she wasn't solely drawn by UGA's 10 national championships. Admittedly, her mother and then-head coach Danna played a big role in recruiting her. 

In Sami's senior year of high school, Danna was dismissed from her position at Georgia.Sami's scholarship offer was later revoked, and LSU pounced on the opportunity to recruit her. 

"I think we both were sad, certainly very sad," Danna said. "But [we felt] like it was a great opportunity for her to go to a place where she could make a name for herself and grow and spread her wings in an entirely new environment that didn't revolve around her mother."

Ten years later, Sami is now getting the chance to work with her mother — albeit this time in a different role. 

UNC gymnastics head coach Danna Durante and assistant coach Sami Durante pose for a portrait before the intrasquad meet at Carmichael Arena on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.

Sami was hired over the summer to a new assistant coach position for the Tar Heels, where she now works under Danna, who has led UNC's program since 2021. In her new role, Sami assumes all director of operations responsibilities for the team — organizing travel, writing newsletters and coordinating events.Sami's hire was made possible thanks to the NCAA’s recent decision that allowed four full-time coaches per collegiate gymnastics team. 

“I’m thankful that it worked out, thankful that she is on staff, and everything that she brings from her experience is incredibly valuable, not only to this team, but even as the youngest member of this staff,” Danna said. 

Sami competed for the Tigers for five years, earning All-American honors on bars twice. After graduating from LSU in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports administration, she stayed in Baton Rouge as a graduate assistant coach, a role in which she assisted in day-to-day operations while earning a master’s degree in sports management. 

UNC gymnastics assistant coach Sami Durante poses for a portrait before the intrasquad meet at Carmichael Arena on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.

After completing her degree program in May, Sami spent part of the summer helping Danna around the office in Chapel Hill.

“I was just blown away by how hard [the athletes] work,” Sami said. “They’re so intentional with everything they do and they have a good time while they’re doing it. And just immediately I was like, ‘Wow, that’s something I want to be a part of.'"

So when the opportunity to interview for UNC's new position opened up, Sami said she knew it was a chance she couldn't pass on. 

Aside from her on-paper responsibilities, Sami — who is 24 — offers a relatable perspective for UNC gymnasts. Sami said, while there's a certain level of respect that comes from being a coach, she also aims to create unique bonds with her athletes as an accomplished gymnast of the same age group.

UNC gymnastics assistant coach Sami Durante talks to graduate student Hallie Thompson before the intrasquad meet at Carmichael Arena on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.

Junior Taylor Schulze said she appreciates her relationship with Sami.

"It’s a lot of fun," Schulze said. "We’re always joking around with her, always laughing with her, so it creates that energy with us.”

Sami's athletic background — she was a member of five separate NCAA Championship squads at LSU — combined with Danna's broad wealth of knowledge makes for an impactful coaching duo. At last, the two are finally getting the opportunity to unite again and work together on something they love.

“It’s such a cool experience to be able to share that with her as a young coach, but also as my daughter, [and] to watch that growth in her and watch her do some pretty amazing things,” Danna said. “It’s really fun and it just really makes my heart happy every single day.”


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