Mike Dinehart sees the obvious. Kennebunk High junior Abbey Leonardi wins another cross country race by a wide margin. Hangs out at the finish to hug teammates and congratulate girls from other schools on their effort.
Fast kid. Smart kid. Quiet manner.
Dinehart also sees another side of Leonardi, a side that may only emerge in the 11th lap of a set of a dozen 400-meter intervals or near the end of a 10-mile training run, a side that separates Leonardi from other talented athletes.
“She’s a tiger,” said Dinehart, the cross country coach at Kennebunk High. “She’ll push herself very hard.”
Leonardi won every Maine race she entered this fall. She was the only Maine schoolgirl to break 18 minutes on a 5-kilometer course, a feat she accomplished three times. She claimed her third straight Class A state title and set a meet record for the Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions.
For the third year in a row, Leonardi is our choice as Maine Sunday Telegram MVP for girls’ cross country.
“I thought last year I probably didn’t improve all that much from freshman year,” Leonardi said. “This year I felt like I’ve gotten a lot stronger and gotten a lot better.
“I still think I have a lot left in me in all my races. I still could have gone a little faster but I guess it’s good I know that going into this weekend.”
This weekend marked the Foot Locker Northeast Regionals in New York’s Long Island. A year ago, Leonardi placed second to win one of 10 qualifying berths to the national finals in San Diego, where she finished 22nd among 40 of the top schoolgirl runners in the country.
She entered Saturday’s regionals ranked 11th in the country, third in the Northeast. She repeated her performance from last year, finishing second to earn a bid to the national finals.
Although Leonardi won all her Maine races this fall, she didn’t run every race hard. Some, she used as tempo runs to aid her training. She has come a long way from two years ago, when her success took many by surprise.
“I knew she’d be good,” said Dinehart, who also coached Leonardi in middle school. “I didn’t believe she’d be that good as a freshman. She won the state championship. She won the New England championship. We were all kind of like, ‘Whoa.’ But now she’s grown into this.”
What Leonardi has learned, Dinehart said, is that running has many components. Nutrition matters, as does proper rest and intelligent training.
“Abbey has been able to put all those pieces together,” Dinehart said. “That’s why she’s going to continue to have success her senior year and into college.”
Her long-term goal is to compete in a Division I college program. Beyond that, who knows?
“Abbey has just run 5K races for all these years in high school,” Dinehart said. “In college, she’ll move up. Abbey has the potential to be an amazing runner.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: