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Rick Houston | NCAA.com | March 14, 2014

For school with no pool, SPIRE Institute is Lake Erie's favorite haunt

Julian Millinkovskyi

GENEVA, Ohio -- For Lake Erie College swimmers Julian Milinkovskyi and Ivan Cizmar and head coach Nicole Rose, this week's NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships are almost like a home meet.

Since the Storm practices and competes regularly at the SPIRE Institute -- a 20-mile drive from the school's location in Painesville, Ohio -- there were no long-distance plane flights to schedule, no jetlag, no uncomfortable hotel beds with which to contend, no wondering what restaurants to check out or avoid.

It's a little different than last year, when the national championship was held in Birmingham.

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“Last year we traveled to Alabama,” Rose said. “The championship in 2012 was in Texas. Although it was a fun adventure with the flights and the travel, particularly for myself and these two athletes, we like the comforts of home.

“I asked them, ‘Do you feel like that takes away from the awe of this experience?’ Now that we have done it three times, it’s kind of advantage to us that we kind of get to do things the way we like to and have our normal routines. The first experience was probably the sweetest, but it’s still very special to be back.”

Gracious host? Lake Erie isn't here to let the visitors enjoy all the glory. Milinkovskyi earned All-American honors Thursday with an eighth-place finish in the 400 individual medley, clocking in with a time of 3:58:07. Cizmar was an All-American in 2012 in the 200 backstroke, and was this year’s GLIAC champion in the 400 IM.

“I’m really proud,” Rose said. “This year, we had our conference champion in the 400 IM, and we now have an All-American in the 400 IM. Those are not the same two individuals. Those are two teammates that train together and work together day to day. Sometimes one guy is the better of the two on that particular day, and the next day, it could be 180 degrees different.”

What makes this all the more remarkable is that Lake Erie’s swimming and diving program is in its fourth competitive season. Her first recruiting class -- including Milinkovskyi -- is about to graduate, and the growth of the program has been something to see.

Rose swam for Wheeling Jesuit University before graduating in 2004, and then served there as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator before being hired by Lake Erie in 2010. In four seasons, Rose has encountered her share of diificulties -- like nothing having a pool on campus. But with three trips to the national championships during that time, the program hasn't skipped a beat.

“There are challenges in a lot of different aspects,” Rose said. “For us, we don’t have our own facility. We’ve obviously been able to spin that, because we’re now training at one of the most elite facilities here in Ohio, home of the GLIAC championships, home of the national championships. We’re very familiar and have grown accustomed to having the advantages of an elite facility.”

Another hurdle has been simple recognition.

“This wasn’t a program that had swimming,” she continued. “It lost swimming, regained swimming. So a lot of people had not heard of Lake Erie. When I first started working here, I called it Ohio’s best-kept secret. It was a hidden secret.

“A lot of people didn’t know there was a quaint, small college nestled in this neck of the woods. That’s been different, just to try to get the word out and expose even local high-school students that are active swimmers to the program and to the college.”