KENNEBUNK — This year, Abbey Leonardi let someone else win the scavenger hunt.
She’s out for better treasure.

The junior from Kennebunk High will compete in the 32nd annual Foot Locker Cross Country

Championships today at Balboa Park in San Diego. This is her second year qualifying as one of 40 schoolgirls invited to run in San Diego, and she plans on running faster than she did in 2009, when 21 girls beat her time of 18 minutes, 11 seconds.

“I think there’s a lot of things I’m going to do different this year,” Leonardi said before leaving Maine. “Just the whole experience of being familiar with the course and how your days are set up.”

In addition to knowing the hilly, double-looping 5,000-meter course and her way around the fancy Hotel del Coronado, Leonardi took a pass on Friday’s scavenger hunt. Last year, her competitive instincts got the best of her as she sprinted around the grounds of the hotel searching for unusual items, counting palm trees and locating the haunted room.

Her quartet, which included a runner from the South region and two others from the Northeast, won the scavenger hunt. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best preparation for the following day’s race against the nation’s best high school distance runners.

“This year,” she said, “I’ll be a lot more relaxed and rest and not waste energy on things like that.”
Leonardi’s race begins at 9:15 a.m. in San Diego, or 12:15 p.m. back in Maine. The boys’ race will follow 45 minutes later.

Since the event began in 1979 as the Kinney Cross Country Championships, Maine has sent seven boys and six girls. The boys were Todd Hews, Matt Lane, Parker Pruett, Louie Luchini, Ben True, Ayalew Taye and Sintayehu Taye. The girls were Susannah Beck, Laura Duffy, Molly Dinan, Gladys Ganiel, Emily Durgin and Leonardi.

Leonardi joins Luchini of Ellsworth, True of Greely and Sintayehu Taye (originally from Portland High before competing for a Massachusetts prep school) as two-time Foot Locker finalists from Maine.

Luchini’s runner-up showing in 1998 remains the best finish for a Maine runner. Lane of Yarmouth (fourth in 1995), Beck of Waynflete (fifth in 1985) and True (fifth in 2003) also showcased the potential that would lead to professional running careers.

Heading into today’s race, one website rates Leonardi fifth in the nation and another ranks her sixth.

She is the two-time Northeast Regional runner-up, comfortably finishing 11 seconds behind today’s favorite, New York state champion Aisling Cuffe, two weeks ago on Long Island.

“I do feel like I still didn’t give it my all,” Leonardi said about qualifying in 18:02 at Sunken Meadow State Park and beating the New Jersey state champ, then ranked second nationally. “I felt really good in the race. I felt fine on the hill. I remember last year it was really tough, so I think I have more in me. It will be interesting at nationals.”

When Leonardi accepted October’s Athlete of the Month award from the National High School Coaches Association, she thanked many people, including teammates, school administrators, coaches and family. She also thanked Kristin Barry and Sheri Piers – “Maine’s best female runners” – for their guidance and inspiration.

Barry and Piers, each a two-time qualifier for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, coached the Cheverus boys’ cross country team in the fall. Last spring, however, they worked out with Leonardi and helped fine-tune her training.

“She’s an amazing girl, tough as nails,” Piers said. “She has good values and makes good choices.”

One of those choices was to keep her weekly mileage low. Leonardi’s longest week was 45 miles.

Most were 40 or below. By contrast, when Barry and Piers are training for a marathon, they run in excess of 120 miles per week.

By resting, staying fresh and eschewing road races she could win handily, Leonardi’s focus on the big picture bodes well for a successful collegiate career and beyond.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she places very, very high (today),” Barry said. “She’s got speed, strength, stamina, mental toughness, the most efficient form you can have. It’s the whole package.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]