She ran 15 seconds faster and moved up six places from a year ago, but Abbey Leonardi couldn’t help but feel disappointed as she finished the Foot Locker cross country championships Saturday in San Diego.

The junior from Kennebunk High placed 16th in her second attempt at the national event, which extends invitations to only 40 high school runners from across the country.

The top 15 finishers receive All-America designation from Foot Locker.

“I guess it’s good that I ran faster, knowing I felt not great,” Leonardi said. “I guess that’s the best way to look at it.”

Leonardi’s time of 17 minutes, 57 seconds for the hilly 3.1-mile course was 4 seconds out of 15th place and more than a minute behind that of the winner, Aisling Cuffe, the New York state champion from Cornwall-on-Hudson who is headed for Stanford next fall.

Cuffe ran away from the field to win in 16:53, more than a half-minute ahead of the runner-up, Rachel Johnson (17:27) of Plano, Texas.

Two weeks ago in the Northeast Regional on Long Island, Leonardi was second by 11 seconds to Cuffe, the second straight year Leonardi earned regional runner-up honors.

On Saturday, Leonardi went out with the leaders and remained among the top five through 800 meters. That’s when she started to cramp up.

“That was my plan and I felt really good until then,” she said. “I think it was probably that the time difference was weird because my stomach wasn’t settled yet. I just tried to push through it but once you don’t feel very well, if you’re a little off that day, everyone else is so good that it’s easy for someone to pass you.”

Temperatures in Balboa Park climbed above 70 degrees for the 32nd annual event. Leonardi made it through the first mile in sixth place but dropped from the top 10 by the end of the second mile.

She said she knew she was on the fence for All-America honors and passed one runner late in the race, only to discover after finishing that she just missed 15th place.

“I’m disappointed but it’s definitely motivating,” she said. “I hope I get another chance next year to really do my best.”

The three-time Class A state champion said she will take a two-week break from running before beginning preparations for the spring outdoor track season.

A banquet for all 80 boys and girls participating in Saturday’s races was held Saturday night, and Leonardi said meeting several professional runners — Meb Keflezighi, Suzy Favor-Hamilton, Molly Huddle and Shalane Flanagan among them — has been a thrill.

“It’s always an awesome experience to be here,” Leonardi said. “It’s fun. I have to be happy with that.”

In the boys’ race, Illinois junior Lukas Verzbicas won his second straight title in a time of 14:59 to become the first runner to win both the Foot Locker and Nike cross country nationals in the same year.

Verzbicas also became just the third schoolboy to repeat as Foot Locker champion.

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

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