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 [email protected] 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.)
BLISSFIELD – Last fall, June Miller raced for an MHSAA cross country title at Michigan International Speedway. During the winter she played in the Division 3 Basketball Final at the Breslin Center. In the spring, she competed at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 track & field championships in Kent City.
As she embarks on her senior year at Blissfield Community Schools in southeast Michigan, Miller isn’t concerned about an encore.
“I don’t worry about topping my junior season,” she said. “I don’t feel the need to. I’ll fight for it to the best of my ability, but if I don’t make it that’s okay. There were a lot of factors that went into last year, and I can’t control all of them this year.
“I’ll leave my best out there and know that I gave it my all, and in the end that’s the true accomplishment. If it takes me that far or further, then great. If not, that’s okay.”
Miller’s remarkable run to MHSAA Finals in three sports remains even more impressive when considering she had eight goals and five assists playing defense for the Royals soccer team.
“Shows up to work, busts her tail every practice, every game,” said Blissfield girls basketball coach Ryan Gilbert. “Never have to worry about June Miller.”
Miller is as steady an athlete as they come, never getting too high or too low in pressure situations. In basketball, Gilbert said Miller never met a shot she didn’t like. Miller started all 29 games last season, leading the team in 3-pointers.
Gilbert said Miller is even-keeled.
“It takes a while to get into the ‘June Miller circle,’ but I’m almost in,” he said. “This is her senior year; this is my year. She’s very funny when you get to know her and has a brilliant mind.
“She wants to win over everything,” Gilbert said.
Miller wasn’t the fastest runner on the cross country team last fall – that spot would belong to her younger sister, Hope. June has no problem with that.
“I love running with my sister,” she said. “She’s an amazing and incredibly kind person. Her dedication to running inspires me and keeps me fighting for it. We train together sometimes and she’s the one that pushes me, and I love that.
“I always knew she’d be faster than me someday, and I couldn’t be prouder of how fast she’s become and how much she’s achieved. (People might) think I’d hold some resentment for her beating me while I’m older, but she’s lived in my shadow for years and I’m so glad she’s been able to find her place that she can dominate.”
Blissfield is eyeing a big season in cross country after winning a Regional and just missing the top 10 at the Final a year ago. The Miller sisters are a big reason for the giddiness.
“I’m ready to leave it all out there,” Miller said. “It’s my senior season, and I want to go out strong. I think the end goal for all of us is to really push it this season and improve with each race so by the time we hit Regionals we’re in the best shape physically and mentally so we can leave it all on the course to get to states again.”
Because of her work schedule this summer, Miller missed some of the team workouts but was able to get the details from her sister and went out on her own time and trained to build up her mileage in preparation for the season.
“I think the experience from last year will give us something to fight for,” she said. “It allows us to look at the season with our end goal being the state meet. It gives us a passion and something to fight for.”
Blissfield cross country coach Ryan Bills called Miller a strong competitor.
“She is fun kid,” he said. “You never know which June you’re going to get – funny, chatty June or serious, no-nonsense June. Either way she always gives it her all during competition, which is why she has seen so much success the past year.”
The four-sport athlete spent the first couple of weeks of summer refreshing her body before kicking it into high gear.
She did take some time to reflect on all the places she got to play and compete last year and is grateful to be part of a team that helped her reach those places.
“It was a unique experience,” she said. “When I’m playing basketball or running track and cross country, I’m not focused on where I am physically – instead I’m in my head focused on what I need to do.
“Once you get to someplace, you stop thinking about getting there and you move on to the next step of being there and doing what you need to there.”
Miller is one of the top students in her class. She’s currently trying to decide whether she wants to pursue playing soccer in college. She wants to major in business and minor in sustainability, eventually getting a master’s degree in architecture.
“I want to be a sustainable design architect,” she said, “who can better the world through the art of architecture.”
Miller’s future looks bright, as does the outlook for this athletic year. In all three sports for which she reached the Finals last year, the Royals have enough returning talent to make lengthy runs again.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Miller said, about four days before the first cross country event of the season. “I want to make it to all those state tournaments again, but I want to do it with my teammates because they’re the ones that make it memorable and something to remember forever.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield’s June Miller (750) races during a cross country meet last fall. (Middle) Miller pulls up for a jumper during last season’s basketball postseason run. (Cross country photo by Deloris Clark-Osborne; basketball photo by Gary Sullivan.)