By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
FLINT — If Nikole Sargent decided early on to specialize in her favorite sport, she never would've discovered her best sport.
Track and field, actually, ranked no higher than third on her list when she began competing in high school. She made the varsity volleyball team as a freshman at Linden in the fall of 2012, then made the Eagles' varsity basketball team in the winter.
"Basketball was the sport I thought I was going to go to in college," Sargent 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."
Oh, yeah, track.
It's a good thing she kept that option open, because that's where she's really made a name for herself in high school and where she'll compete as a thrower for Michigan State University.
"My sophomore year, I got letters from schools about track," Sargent said. "I'm like, 'Oh, I never thought about this.'"
Sargent hit the radar of college track and field recruiters when she placed third as a freshman in the shot put in the 2013 MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 meet for Linden with a toss of 41 feet, 1.5 inches. After transferring the following school year to her parents' alma mater, Flint Powers Catholic, she took second in the shot put (41-3) and 10th in the discus (109-4) in Division 3.
When Powers moved up to Division 2 her junior year, Sargent was unaffected by the increase in competition. She won the MHSAA championship in the shot put, throwing 45-4.75.
It was a performance that mirrored that of her father, Mike, who won the shot put and discus for Powers in 1984 after the Chargers moved up from Class B to Class A. He was third in both events in Class B as a junior in 1983.
Nikole was already involved in three sports by her middle school years when her father, a tight end on MSU's 1988 Rose Bowl team, introduced her to shot put.
At first, she was underwhelmed.
"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."
Sargent threw the six-pound shot 43-6 as an eighth grader. Her outdoor season bests throwing the 8.8-pound shot in high school have been 43-7.5 as a freshman, 42-6.5 as a sophomore, 45-6.25 as a junior and a school-record 47-0.75 as a senior.
In the Michigan Indoor Track Series state meet on Feb. 27, Sargent won the championship with a throw of 45-9. She topped a field that included defending MHSAA LP Division 1 champion Emily Meier of Canton and two other top-five finishers from last year's Division 1 meet.
While she already has an MHSAA shot put title on her resume, Sargent is determined to atone for a subpar performance in the discus last season. She was the second seed in the discus last spring with a toss of 132-11, but wound up 12th at 111-3 at the MHSAA meet.
"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 has developed consistency in the discus early this season, clearing 130 feet in all three of her competitions. She did so only twice in 2015, both throws coming late in the season.
Sargent not only has the benefit of her father's throwing knowledge, but she's coached by Mike Stuart, 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 look beyond the family dinner table.
In addition to her father's athletic background, twin brother Noah was the starting quarterback on Powers' MHSAA Division 5 runner-up football team in the fall and older sister Jordan is a defender on Oakland University's soccer team.
"My mom (Tracy) 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.'"
An accomplished athlete in her own right, 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."
Bill Khan served as a sportswriter at The Flint Journal from 1981-2011 and currently contributes to the State Champs! Sports Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Flint Powers' Nikole Sargent unloads the shot during a meet last season. (Middle) Sargent tosses the discus during the Earlybird meet at Flint Kearsley on April 13. (Photos courtesy of the Sargent family and Flint Powers athletic department.)