Dominant in the shot put, Nikole Sargent of Flint Powers looks to rebound in the discus
Flint — Nikole Sargent’s introduction to putting the shot was underwhelming, to say the least.
Her father, Mike Sargent, was the Class A shot put champion for Flint Powers in 1984, so it was natural that he would find out if his athletically gifted daughter inherited some of his throwing ability.
It turns out she did, though she didn’t recognize it at first.
"When I first threw the shot put in seventh grade," Sargent said, "I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is not for me. This is hard. I am not going to be good at this.’ Then I went to my first meet and I ended up beating everyone by like 10 or 15 feet. I was like, ‘OK, I guess I’ll give it a shot.’ That’s when he really started working with me and said, ‘You could be good at this.’
"It was something completely different than anything I’d ever done. I was a basketball player, a volleyball player, a soccer player. I was not a thrower, in my mind. Not until eighth grade did I think of myself as a thrower."
Even as she entered high school in the fall of 2012, track and field ranked low on Sargent’s list of priorities. As a freshman she made the varsity basketball and volleyball teams at Linden before the track season started. As is the case for many athletes who compete in track and field, ball sports held a stronger attraction for Sargent.
"Basketball was the sport I thought I was going to go to in college," she said. "Volleyball took over in my mind my sophomore year. I was going to play really high-level volleyball, so I gave up basketball and focused on track and volleyball."
If Sargent was unaware of her potential in track and field, that changed after she took third in the shot put as a freshman at the Division 2 finals with a toss of 41 feet, 1½ inches. She transferred to Powers, her parents’ alma mater, during her sophomore year, taking second in the shot (41-3) and 10th in the discus (109-4) at the Division 3 finals.
Those performances attracted the attention of college track and field programs. Also following in her parents’ footsteps, Sargent signed with Michigan State, where her father was the starting tight end on the Spartans’ 1988 Rose Bowl-championship team.
She also considered Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville and some smaller colleges.
"I just grew up loving the school, because of my dad," Sargent said of MSU. "My mom went there, as well. Pretty much it was the best fit academically and athletically."
When she arrives in East Lansing, Sargent hopes to do so with three state championships on her resume. She secured the first last spring when she won the shot put by nearly three feet with a toss of 45-4¾ . The only disappointment on that rainy day in Zeeland was that she placed a distant 12th in the discus with a throw of 111-3. Sargent was the No. 2 seed entering the finals with a throw of 133-6 in the regional.
Sargent, whose regional is Saturday at Williamston, will be heavily favored to repeat in the shot put. She has the best throw in the state in all divisions this year, going 47-9¾ on April 30 at the Brighton Bulldog Invitational; Brianna DeSappio of Division 1 Jenison is next at 43-3. Sargent has exceeded 47 feet in four straight meets.
It’s in the discus where she’ll face her toughest challenge when the Division 2 finals are held on June 4 in Zeeland.
While Sargent has made huge strides in the discus this year, her school-record toss of 142-1 ranks third in the state to two Division 2 competitors, Zeeland East’s Amanda Geerlings (147-8) and Lansing Sexton’s Erin Howard (142-5). Elizabeth Pyles of Division 2 Cadillac ranks fifth at 136-6.
Other Division 2 contenders in the discus are Lansing Sexton’s Erin Howard, whose 136-9 ranks fourth in the state, and Cadillac’s Elizabeth Pyles, whose 135-10 ranks sixth.
"She’s going to win the shot easily," said Mike Stuart, Powers’ coach in the discus and shot. "In the discus, she’s got a good chance. There are a couple of good girls coming back from last year, so it won’t be as easy as the shot."
Sargent has a record of 19-0 in the shot put over the last two years. She is 16-1 in the discus, her 12th-place showing in the state meet being the only blemish.
"I threw really bad, so I’m kind of out for redemption this year," Sargent said. "I know I can throw a lot better, and I’m hoping to take a state title in that, as well. My practices have already been 10 times better than last year. Disc is all form. Pretty much throughout this last summer and the beginning of this season, I’ve just been working on form. I work on my form for 10, 20, even 30 minutes before I start throwing.
"I came in seeded second. When you end up taking (12th), it’s not really something good, but you learn from every experience. I try to be a stronger person. I don’t let pride get in the way or anything. It just makes you want to work harder."
Sargent not only has the benefit of her father’s throwing knowledge, but she’s coached by one of the most successful throwing coaches in Michigan. Flint Carman-Ainsworth had the premier throwing program in the state when Stuart was an assistant coach with the Cavaliers.
"It helps a lot," Sargent said. "Obviously, he’s had so much success. Working with him has brought this whole new world of throwing to me that I never imagined. He has a way of putting things that makes so much sense to me."
Stuart began working with Sargent before her junior year.
"She needed a lot of help," Stuart said. "I had to reteach her the discus the first summer that I met her. Her shot put technique was basically good; we just had to work on using the circle better. She has a 45-foot standing throw, which is off the charts. I’ve never even heard of that in high school. It’s from having basic good throwing technique, and she’s awfully strong for a girl; she bench-presses 210 pounds."
If Sargent needs advice on how to deal with the ups and downs of an athletic career, she doesn’t have to leave the house.
In addition to her father’s athletic success, twin brother Noah was the starting quarterback on Powers’ Division 5 runner-up team in last fall and older sister Jordan is a defender on Oakland University’s soccer team.
"My mom played sports, as well," Sargent said. "We grew up working out together. We were always watching a football game. Sports has always been a big part of my life. My twin brother and I have always competed against each other, even though we do different sports. We’ve always been that rival with each other. ‘I’ll shoot baskets with you if you’ll toss the volleyball.’"
Nikole relished taking on the role of cheerleader when her brother led Powers to Ford Field.
"I was the leader of our student section," she said. "I started all the cheers. I was always in the front row. That was an amazing memory."