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COLUMN: Flathead sees rare pair head to Division I

by FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | November 10, 2021 10:53 PM

It is once again Signing Day Ceremony Season, and Flathead High had a nice one Wednesday to celebrate two future Division I athletes in swimmer Lily Milner and wrestler Fin Nadeau.

It’s not unusual to do these photo-ops by twos or threes or more, especially for a bigger school like Flathead. So one obvious setup was to have Nadeau, who’s headed to Binghamton University in New York, pose with Milner, who’s bound for the University of Utah.

It is rare enough to have two D-I signees, and probably rarer still when they sit that close. “They’re dating,” confirmed Flathead wrestling coach Jeff Thompson.

The photos continued, to where it felt like half the student body and family trees were getting in the frame.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” said Milner, a two-time defending State AA champion in both the 100-meter freestyle and the 100 backstroke. “Well, I half-mentioned it to a lot of people — ‘Oh, my signing is today’ — but a lot of people showed up and it was really cool and special. It was really fun to see all these people support us.”

Milner’s future school seems almost a given. For starters she spent several years being coached in club and high school by Missoula product Major Robinson, who had a standout collegiate career for the Utes.

“I’ve been to swim camps there, love the program, love all the staff,” Milner said. “As soon as I hit those goals I needed to hit, in order to go there? I was immediately reaching out.”

Milner impressively lowered her state times in the freestyle from 52.05 seconds in 2020 to 50.98 this past February; her backstroke time went from 57.42 down to 56.58.

This is a byproduct of countless kicks and turns.

“Oh, my gosh,” she said. “Five thousand yards a day, and a mile is 1,650 so that’s three miles a day, for probably 300 days a year. …” She smiles. “It adds up.”

For Nadeau, Binghamton wasn’t on his mind until Christa Nadeau found it out.

“My mom just said, ‘Hey, there’s this pretty cool college. You should reach out to them,’“ the younger Nadeau said. “I started contacting the coaches and texting them and really liked them. Then I went out for a visit and really felt like that was the place I should be.

“It’s a pretty good wrestling school.”

Binghamton in fact is ranked No. 9 in the National Wrestling Coaches Association/NDS Mid-Major poll. Wrestling for the Bearkats is a reward earned with hours in the Brave Brawlers’ wrestling room.

“It’s been a lot of hard work, over the past few years especially, in the room,” said Nadeau, who has been State AA runner-up three times. “There’s been a lot of good partners, a lot of good coaching.”

Partners like Asher Kemppainen, Gabe Luke, Chase Youso and Anders Thompson give credence to the saying, Steel sharpens steel. Nadeau figures to study business in New York.

It’s fitting that the duo excel in a sport that takes a lot of self-discipline.

“You kind of become who you surround yourself with,” said Milner, who is leaning toward political science or pharmacy in college. “I consider both of us to be really dedicated athletes. We push each other to be better people, better athletes. It’s worked really well.”

By next July the two will be preparing for campus life, or already have begun it. Binghamton, in case you wondered, sits 2,000 miles from Salt Lake City as the crow flies. Or 667 days as the Lily Milner swims.

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or fneighbor@dailyinterlake.com.