At the start of this decade, folks used to flock to Trenton Central High School track and field meets to see Mijah Collier’s brother, Jermaine, perform record-breaking feats in the hurdle races. Off in the distance, one could spy a little girl just playing in the dirt, not really excited about what was happening.
While complete strangers watched Jermaine in awe, his own sister seem all that impressed.
“I was always around the track atmosphere, but I really didn’t understand what was going on,” Collier said. “I would just look up and go ‘Oh, that’s my brother, go Maine!’ but I really didn’t understand anything that was happening. We’re seven years apart, so I was real young.”
Some things have changed since then, and some have stayed the same. Folks are still coming to Colonial Valley Conference meets to watch a Collier excel at hurdles. But now they are rooting on Mijah as she competes for Lawrence High School.
She is doing so with success comparable to Jermaine, who completed a standout career at the University of South Carolina last spring, and her cousin Zyaire Clemes, a Trenton High grad now sprinting for the University of Southern California.
With that kind of pedigree, it’s no wonder Collier felt she had something to prove entering high school.
“I kind of knew expectations were going to be there because of my last name, because my brother did track and was so good,” said Collier, now in her junior year. “I’m pretty sure they expect me to continue the legacy. But it wasn’t people putting pressure on me; it was me putting pressure on myself because I knew what people thought. It wasn’t a downfall, but it was overwhelming, kind of. I’m still learning to deal with it.”
Collier did not disappoint, as she made an immediate mark as a freshman. That made folks even more anxious to see what she could do, and Cardinals’ coach Tim Collins feels Mijah has done a nice job of handling everything.
“She knows she’s got high expectations,” Collins said. “She doesn’t run away from them. For a young lady her age, she deals with it nicely. It’s very difficult, with the early success she’s had. She knows she can’t hide in the woods. She’s out there, she’s got the name, people know who she is. She does a very good job with tough expectations. We’re looking for another big year and looking to see what she can do this year.”
‘…I felt like I deserved to be here, I earned a spot to be here so I’m going to make the best of it.’
Collins was talking about the spring season, but his comments came just prior to the NJSIAA Group II indoor meet, in which Collier qualified for three events.
At the Central Jersey Group II meet (the Cardinals go back up to Group III in the spring), Collier won the 55 hurdles in 8.45, which broke her own school record. She was sixth in the 400 meters, and was part of the fourth-place 4×400 relay team along with Kelsey Holt, Breasia Solomon and Sataya Gordon.
That effort came on the heels of an outstanding Mercer County indoor meet, at which she won the 200 (26.50) and 55 hurdles (8.61), and took fourth in the 400 and 4×400.
Asked how she felt going into the state meet, Collier said, “I feel great, I feel like a winner. Sectionals was a real confidence booster.”
Collier was disappointed with her effort in the 400, but was fairly satisfied with the hurdles, which is her best event.
“I know the competition gets steeper and steeper as you go on,” she said. “I’m telling myself, ‘Do this, do that.’ I had some things I could have done better. But I won, so I guess I did fine.”
She has been better than fine ever since she started organized running.
As a little kid, Collier was fast, although she admitted to tiring quickly. At age 12 her mom, former TCHS track standout Markeata Clemes, signed her up with the Trenton Track Club run by Al Jennings. One of the great track minds in the state, Jennings had Collier running all kind of things and getting her in shape.
“It was kind of overwhelming,” Collier said. “In some cases it was, ‘Wow, this is more than I thought it was.’ Not only did we have technique but we had workouts. I was like, ‘Man, I’m tired, should I be doing this?’”
She got her answer in Trenton’s first competitive meet when she won the 400.
“I remember getting first in that event and my dad was so proud of me,” she said. “That was a big one.”
Is that what made her stay with it?
“I like the feeling of winning, so…” she said. “And also, I was growing as a runner, getting to know other people. It helped grow my character too, so it was good.”
Upon moving to Lawrence before ninth grade, Collier reunited with Jennings, the former Trenton High coach who now works with the Cardinals. It was then that Jennings fulfilled his prediction for Collier.
“I started hurdling my freshman year,” she said. “Coach Jennings always told me I would be a hurdler ever since I was little. When I came here, sure enough I was hurdling. It came naturally to me, kind of, sort of.”
It was natural enough that she set the school record in the 55 hurdles, which she has broken several times over. She also set the outdoor 100 hurdle record that year, was part of the record-breaking 4×400 relay team and won the Mercer County indoor 200.
“My freshman year was my favorite year,” Collier said. “Nobody was expecting me to do much, but then I was really good. I set a lot of records freshman year, two by myself.”
It’s not exactly true, however, that no one was expecting much.
“We had expectations, and she was good right away,” Collins said.
As a sophomore, Collier finished third in the CJ III 55 hurdles but just missed advancing to the finals in the state meet. During the spring Mercer County meet, she was second in the 100 hurdles and 400 hurdles, and was part of the winning 4×100 relay and the third-place 4×400.
Collier exploded at the spring CJ III sectionals, winning the 100 hurdles and 400 hurdles while running on winning 4×400 and 4×100 relays teams. She qualified for the Meet of Champions by finishing fourth in the Group III meet, but struggled to a 20th place finish at the MOC in a disappointing 15.44.
“That was actually kind of nerve wracking,” Collier said. “I was so nervous. I’m this little sophomore with all these people. But coming out of it I felt like I deserved to be here, I earned a spot to be here so I’m going to make the best of it.”
This winter, Collier has continued to hurdle well. She won the 55 hurdles along with the 200 meters at the Mercer meet, and finished fourth in the 400 and the 4×400. Both Collier and Collins feels she has the potential to go faster in the 400.
“She’s had a solid season in the hurdles and can still be great in those other events,” Collins said. “But hurdling she’s been really good and she’s getting to be a better leader, so that helps us out as well.”
Unlike a lot of other athletes, who use the winter season to mainly get ready for spring track or even another sport, Collier is out to win during the big indoor meets.
“Her expectations are to do well,” Collins said. “She’s also qualified for the Easterns in the 4×200 and the hurdles, so we’ll go right up into the spring season with her.”
The coach feels strength and work ethic are the biggest factors in Collier’s success.
“She’s basically very strong, that helps her out quite a bit,” Collins said. “She loves track and field, she has big goals. She’s always willing to put in the extra time and effort. Coach Al Jennings has known her forever, so there’s a comfort level she has with him as well.”
And the result has been another Collier that track fans can come out and enjoy. She certainly has lived up to the family name.