By Grant Dovey
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Growing up in the Northwest England metropolitan of Greater Manchester, West Virginia women's swimming senior Mandie Nugent never thought she would end up in the states, but knew she needed to make a radical change as her high school career was winding down.
"If I hadn't have done this, I probably wouldn't have a great future ahead of me," Nugent says. "I didn't want to go to school, I didn't want to keep swimming, I didn't want to do anything. I wanted to work in a small job and maybe work my way up the system to become a manager. I wasn't goal driven and had no prospects in my life."
Fast forward four years and Nugent has become one of the WVU's all-time greats in women's swimming as a seven-time conference champion, a three-time NCAA Qualifier and a two-time Honorable Mention All-American.
"I think coming over here revitalized some of her goals," head coach Vic Riggs says. "You see it click with her. You know that she is just out there swimming and it's not hard, it's not work and she's not thinking about it a lot, she's just racing."
When arriving on the WVU campus prior to the 2009-10 season, Nugent had a plan of continuing an already successful career in film editing.
"I actually used to do film editing with MTV BOOM!," Nugent recalls. "I won an Apple Mac and a digital camera through a contest and film editing was the path I planned on going into."
It was quickly realized that WVU did not offer such a program and Nugent, who made clothes in her spare time, decided to enroll in the fashion design and merchandising program.
"It's a lot harder than I thought it would be. People tell me that I'm in the easy major, but I have so much to do," Nugent explains. "I have to make 10 garments for fashion shows, I have to create different designs and sometimes I have to miss practice. It's a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I can't even imagine being in a different major because I've had so much fun."
The hard work has paid off as she will continue her fashion career following graduation. Nugent has been offered a position as a stylist with Nordstrom's in Pittsburgh, beginning in the shoe department and eventually working her way on to a team of stylists.
"I may go back to England, I may not, but this has definitely been a good choice because I've made something of myself," Nugent says. "I have little kids asking me for my autograph and people respect me as a swimmer and a person."
Nugent's drive in the pool was noticed last year at the Big East Championships in the 200 fly, an event she won in her first three conference championships, when she was in second place going into the last 25 yards of the race.
"She (Tanja Kylliainen - Louisville) had the lead the whole race and the last 25 (yards) I crept up," Nugent recalls. "I killed her in the underwaters and that's been my strategy all along with the last 50 (yards), so that wasn't any surprise to me."
Nugent went on to win the event by nearly one second and set a school and Big East record in the process with a time of 1:54.43, qualifying her for the NCAA Championships with an "A" cut.
"All true champions have a point in time where they separate themselves from the rest of the pack," associate head coach Damion Dennis explains. "Watching that 200 fly race was like watching a cat and mouse game and the Mandie decided it was over. She made a statement with that swim."
At the NCAA Championships, Nugent earned Honorable Mention All-America honors with a ninth-place finish in the 200 fly, beating Kylliainen again, and as part of the 16th place 800 free relay team.
"To beat her at Big East and then NCAAs just shows that Vic knows what he is doing when it comes to me," Nugent says. "We've had the race planned out since sophomore year and it has never changed. I'm hoping for a lot more success in my final year, this is the year I'm going to leave my stamp on the board."
Nugent's ultimate swimming goal is to medal at the NCAA Championships, earning All-America status and earning a spot on West Virginia's All-America wall.
"I have (strength coach) Beth (Byron) shouting at me in the weight room telling me every pushup and everything I do has to be for that All-America status," Nugent says. "There are two spots next to (former WVU men's basketball player) Kevin Jones' face and mine is going to be there by the end of the year.
"I've had a goal that I want to get Top 3 and medal and that's been my goal since freshman year. I'm not going to leave this town without an NCAA medal. I have a lot of pressure on me and I'm glad we have a strong team where we can get more girls with the NCAA rule changes."
By the time the University of Texas hosts the NCAA Championships in late-March she will have a good chance reaching her goal as it will be the third time she has swam in Texas' pool in the 2012-13 season. At the 2012 AT&T U.S. Winter Nationals Championships in December, Nugent placed sixth in the 200 fly. She makes a return trip looking to improve her time at the Big 12 Championships in late-February.
"It's going to be hard and I might not be the Big 12 Champion, but if you aren't going to do something to try and be the best, then there is no point in doing it," Nugent says. "I'm ready for a good challenge."