On the first day of track practice this season, Piedmont Hills freshman Reonna Collier did a double-take when her coach told her that she could win the state championship in the 300-meter hurdles.
Didn't he know that Collier had never hurdled?
But Chioke Robinson had a vision that came to fruition this month when Collier blew away the field to win the title in 40.90 seconds, the 10th-fastest time in state history.
"Any athlete that comes in I always believe has a shot to do something special," Robinson said. "It's just a matter of the combination of dedication and consistency at whatever it is they are trying to do."
Collier showed both as she became the first freshman to win four events at the Central Coast Section championships and then placed in three events at the state meet. She finished fourth in the 100 hurdles and ran a leg on the 4x400 relay that took second as Piedmont Hills placed only behind Long Beach Poly in the team standings.
For her achievements, Collier is the Mercury News girls track and field athlete of the year.
"She had a great year," Robinson said. "There is no other way to put it. But there is still a lot to go, there is still a lot of learning to do and there is still a mountain to climb. But it was definitely a good season for her."
Back when practice started, Collier remembers telling Robinson that she wasn't sure she could hurdle because, as she put it, "I wasn't really believing in myself."
The transition did not start out smoothly.
"She definitely had those days of hating me," Robinson said. "But it came around."
The turning point came in the fourth meet as Collier set a personal record by more than a second. It got only better as the season moved along.
But as impressive as Collier's results were, Robinson believes she has the potential to do much more -- as in break the all-time state and national mark in the 300 hurdles of 39.98 seconds, set by Long Beach-Wilson's Lashinda Demus in 2001. "But that's way off the future," the coach said.
Maybe it isn't. Asked if reaching the all-time mark was attainable in the next three seasons, Collier, who turns 16 next month, said, "Yes it is. I plan on doing it next year."
Clearly, her confidence has soared as she has gone from unsure about hurdling a few months ago to now aiming to become only the second high school girl to go under 40 seconds.
Sprinter of year: Maddy Price, Menlo School, senior
Hurdler of year: Reonna Collier, Piedmont Hills, freshman
Distance runner of year: Sarah Robinson, Gunn, senior
Horizontal jumper of year: Marisa Kwiatkowski, Wilcox, senior
Vertical jumper of year: Greta Wagner, Los Gatos, senior
Thrower of year: Elena Bruckner, Valley Christian, sophomore