Sammi Licari faces a double whammy at the Class A state tennis tournament.
Not only does it mark the likely end of her athletic career, but she won't be playing anymore for her dad Dave, who is the tennis and girls basketball coach at Columbus.
“I always get these moments where I'll start thinking about everything and start to cry,” Sammi said. “We're just so close.”
Licari is the sixth seed in No. 1 singles for the state tournament, which takes place Thursday and Friday at the Koch Family Tennis Center. Teammate Chelsea Haack (36-5) is the third seed in No. 2 singles.
Licari (38-4) enters state with far more matches than any of the other higher seeds. Her dad said Columbus was invited to three new tournaments, which he felt would pay off rather than practicing because it gave his players a shot at tougher competition.
“It helps,” he said. “A lot of our kids, like Sammi, don't play tennis year-round. They are multi-sport kids.”
Sammi has excelled in both of her sports. This season, she's won the Greater Nebraska Athletic Conference title as well as finishing first at the Columbus, North Star and Waverly Invitationals. She was second at the Lincoln East and Millard West meets.
She said facing harder-hitting girls in Omaha and Lincoln has improved her game and made her more consistent.
“I don't even feel like I've played 42 matches,” she said. “I just love competing. It's a sport I can't get mad about. I'm always happy when I play. I love being outside. I like to meet other girls from other schools. I love competing at a high level like that.”
In basketball, she was a point guard who helped the 22-4 Discoverers to a repeat berth in the Class A tournament while averaging 16.7 points and 4.9 assists. She made the second team on the All-Nebraska squad.
The past two seasons, Columbus went to state by beating Millard North in the district finals. The 2011 win was one of the highlights of her career.
“After that, I've never seen him so happy,” Licari said of her dad. “Me, him and my mom (Brenda), we stayed up really late. We were talking about every single moment, every single point. We were smiling the whole time. It was just crazy.”
Coach Licari said he's also feeling a few pangs as tennis season draws to a close. Because of their similar personalities and love of sports, he and his daughter have had few squabbles through the years. He even coached her in cross country as a freshman before she decided that it wasn't for her.
All those hours together at practices and games is what he'll miss most. That and her will to win.
“I guess as a coach, you really like the competitiveness — in practices and in games — in both sports,” he said. “Just that she really gets after it.”
Licari said it helps that he has a new crop of athletes to nurture and train, especially since Sammi is the youngest of his three children. Sammi, meanwhile, has been taking nursing classes and said that probably will be her focus when she decides where she wants to go to college.
She said she'll miss giving it everything she has on the court, as well as her teammates. But especially those times with her dad.
“The main thing I'll say is I love you and thank you for everything,'' she said. “I have so much I could say, but that pretty much sums it all up. I couldn't do it without him.''
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