FORTVILLE — Alaina Nugent doesn’t just pride herself on standing up for the “little guy.” She views herself as one to her core.
While a self-proclaimed underdog, as the youngest of three siblings, Nugent finds strength and purpose both internally and externally. Tell her she’s not good enough, and the Mt. Vernon senior will prove you wrong.
Pick on someone, anyone, and she’ll instinctively spring to action.
“Doing the right thing is so important to me because I was one of those kids in middle school that was treated poorly, and I don’t like seeing that with anybody. I like every thing to be as fair as it can be no matter who you are or what you are,” Nugent said.
“I always stand up for the little guy because I’ve always been the little guy. Do things through love, not through hate.”
If there is one thing the youngest daughter of Carla and Shawn Nugent despises more, besides bullying or injustice, it’s losing.
Though being told she can’t is a very close second. Through every setback comes motivation, Nugent says, and she personified resiliency’s results on the golf course this season.
Always coming up short the past three years in the Hancock County golf girls scene, Nugent grew tired of being runner-up, so she changed that.
Beginning this summer and carrying over into this fall, Nugent was dominant in her final prep campaign and it earned her 2021 Daily Reporter Girls Golf Athlete of the Year honors.
“We’ve had some disappointments the last three years, and so has (Alaina), so you start to learn. When you get disappointed, you start to understand, that’s not the end of the world. I can come back and I can play my best the next match,” Mt. Vernon head coach Mike Miner said. “All those experiences help when you get into those tough situations.”
Nugent learned about grit her freshman golf season, when she lost her shot at her first county medalist finish in a playoff to former New Palestine standout Annaliese Fox. The trend continued her sophomore year when she had to settle for third place.
As a junior, Greenfield-Central’s Caroline Gibson, then a senior in 2020, bested Nugent at county for the top spot, while the Marauders came in second for a third straight year.
Between New Palestine and Greenfield-Central, the Marauders and Nugent were repeatedly left on the outside looking in at county and during the sectional tournament.
Then, the 2021 girls golf season approached, and Nugent, who was fresh off a fourth-place run during the invite-only Junior Masters Tour Championship at Prairie View Golf Club in Carmel this past July, focused her mindset on the months ahead.
“I was excited. I could see myself winning a lot of things from looking at the competition that I had from junior year. I knew Caroline (Gibson) was gone. I knew Annaliese (Fox) was gone, and I was like, ‘This is my year. I’m going to take it home. I’m going to do it all this year,’” Nugent said.
“I was really excited because I knew I could be successful as long as I had the confidence to be successful. I had success in the beginning of the year when I was fresh off summer tournaments and fresh off better competition, which was good.”
This past summer, Nugent competed in several tournaments through the American Junior Golf Association and Indiana Junior Golf Program.
OVERSET FOLLOWS:As a youth, Nugent had hoop dreams, competing nationally on the AAU circuit while also playing golf since the sixth grade, but after the county playoff against Fox, her direction changed.
Golf was her game and the course was her proving ground much like her older brother, Maxwell, 23, and the softball diamond for older sister, Kaitlyn.
“In golf, there’s opportunity with every shot and every hole, and you can prove yourself no matter who you are as long as you can set your mind to it and do what you know you can do,” Nugent said.
“Golf is very special to me because it can help prove to myself that I am worth something. In golf, I’m the one yelling at myself, and I can’t blame anything on anyone else except myself. Golf is my thing. I can only blame myself and if the conditions are bad, everyone has to deal with it, so you just have to push through.”
A medalist at nearly every event she participated in this season, Nugent made a statement during the 2021 county tournament at Hawk’s Tail of Greenfield with a 1-over-par 37 for her first-career medalist finish.
Her team, which included close friends senior Meredith Johnson and Mackenzie Miner, halted Greenfield-Central’s two-year run with a 20-stroke victory and claimed three of the event’s five all-county spots.
The wave continued during the Hoosier Heritage Conference tournament at Albany Golf Club in September as the team captured its first title since 2003 by 25 strokes over Pendleton Heights.
Once again, Nugent led the way with an 82 for medalist honors.
“That was definitely the goal. My goal was to medal every single thing I could because in the summer I could see myself and where I was. I was right there with this person or her, and she’s going D-I and I’m right there with her. Now, I’m finally up there, so I’m going to come into my hometown where I know there isn’t as good of competition and I’m going to dominate,” Nugent said.
“I’m going to get every single medal that I can, and I’m not going to let up on anybody.”
Her work ethic stems from watching her sister Kaitlyn make herself into a top-flight softball ace. Her studious nature came from her brother Maxwell, who went on to Ball State University through his academic prowess.
The team’s success and sectional championship run, which marked the first in eight years and the program’s third overall, was a by-product of cohesiveness and competitiveness.
“We finally glued together after (we won the New Palestine Invitational this year) because even me and Meredith were so competitive up until that point. We were so at each other. Finally, seeing us come together and win something and get more glued as a team rather than as individuals was probably one of my favorite parts,” Nugent said.
Johnson and Nugent competed together and against one another since grade school and were joined by Mackenzie Miner in the seventh grade. For the first few years, Johnson was No. 1 to Nugent’s No. 2, while Miner was the “mediator” between the two.
This fall, the trio were not only on the same page, they pushed the Marauders to new heights, including the golf’s trifecta by winning county, conference and sectional.
In the end, Johnson and Nugent concluded their prep careers together as Mt. Vernon’s first individual IHSAA state finalists since Charlie True in 2016.
Nugent tied for 44th at state, conducted at Prairie View the first weekend in October, and Johnson was 85th. The duo reached state as individuals as Johnson shot an 80 at The Edge in Anderson on Sept. 25, and Nugent persevered through a three-person playoff for the fifth and final state invite.
“That was almost gut-wrenching. That was impressive for her to pull it back together after she kind of thought she messed up and wasn’t going to go to state,” Mike Miner recalled.
A quick talk with her father, Shawn, settled Nugent down prior to the two-hole playoff. From there, Miner witnessed what he observed from the season’s start.
“In the very first 18-hole tournament that we played, she hits a drive and it’s just 20 yards short. The play is a dogleg. There’s waste area and a bunker guarding the green. She just fires right at it. She has that length, but she’s not worried about the short game,” Miner said.
“She lands in the waste area, and it’s not a great lie. She hits it in the bunker. She tried to take advantage of her length, and it didn’t quite work out. But, last year, she probably would have bogeyed that hole. No, not this year. What did she do? She chipped it in for birdie out of the sand. I was like, OK, it’s different this year. She’s different.”
A pair of par putts secured her first state berth and concluded a the first portion of her journey that is destined for a sequel at the collegiate level where Nugent is weighing several offers.
“It’s all the same competitiveness to me, so I’m just trying to figure out what kind of role I want on my team. If I want to be in that top five or redshirt that first year and use that scholarship money for law school,” Nugent said.
Why law school?
“A lot of people at school sometimes think I’m a snitch,” Nugent whispered with a laugh. “But, I don’t snitch. I just like to play a fair game. I hate being that person, but I have to keep everyone accountable around me. I’m a rule follower, and I like doing the right thing, always. It frustrates me, even when I see my teammates doing the wrong thing.”
On the golf course, Nugent won’t stop striving towards getting it right.
“I found golf and it kind of all meshed together. I’m going to work as hard as my sister, and I was going to be as smart as my brother and I’m going to go for it,” Nugent said.