November 28, 2010

Girls' Cross Country MVP
You can usually find her at the head of the pack

Abbey Leonardi, the MVP for the third straight year, has drive and tenacity that separates her from other talented athletes.

By Glenn Jordan
Staff Writer

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.

click image to enlarge

Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk won every race she ran in Maine this fall, capturing her third girls Class A state cross country championship in a row. She also was the only Maine schoolgirl runner to break 18 minutes on a 5-kilometer course.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Shannon Conley, Cheverus, Freshman

Capped a memorable debut season with a 19th in Thetford, Vt., to gain all-New England status. Placed fourth at the state meet in a fast 19:08 to help Cheverus repeat as Class A champion. Only six girls in Maine ran faster times this fall. First team all-SMAA.

Emily Durgin, Cheverus, Junior

Rebounded from a spring stress fracture to post the second-fastest time in the state (18:04). Runner-up at Class A state meet for the third year in a row, leading Cheverus to a second straight state title. Also finished second at the New England meet, helping Cheverus to a fourth-place finish.

Fiona Hendry, Cheverus, Junior

Placed third in the regional and state meets, behind only Durgin and Leonardi, to help Cheverus defend its Class A state title. Her state time of 18:35 was 15 seconds faster than those of the Class B or C champions.

Carsyn Koch, Washburn, Freshman

Won Class C state title by more than a minute in a time of 19:36, after playing in two playoff soccer games in the previous four days. Also won Eastern Maine title as Washburn fielded a team for the first time in seven years. Finished 45th in New England, one of seven Maine schoolgirls among the top 50.

Abbey Leonardi, Kennebunk, Junior

Ran to third consecutive Class A state title and regained the Western Maine crown she won as a freshman. Her time of 17:49 at the state meet was the only sub-18 race from a Maine schoolgirl all season. Ranked 11th in the nation and received national student-athlete of the month award for October.

Abby Mace, Maranacook, Junior

Western Maine Class B champion for the third year in a row despite IT band injury that kept her out of New England meet. Gamely finished second in state meet.

Dacie Manion, Old Town, Senior

Two-time Eastern Maine champ. Dropped half a minute from fifth-place finish in Festival of Champions at Belfast to win Class B state title over the same course, in 18:50.

Katie McMahon, Brunswick, Junior

Eastern Class A state champion with a time of 19:12 at Belfast. Earned all-New England honors with a 22nd-place finish in Thetford, Vt., the third Maine schoolgirl across the line at the New England meet.

Nyajock Pan, South Portland, Sophomore

Rebounded from 13th at the Western Regional to an impressive sixth-place finish in the Class A state meet with a season-best time of 19:14. Placed 67th overall at the New England meet.

Emma Wood, Mt. Ararat, Junior

Eastern Maine runner-up who led Eagles to regional team title. Placed fifth in Class A state meet with a time of 19:12 to help Mt. Ararat finish second overall and qualify for the New England meet.

Coach of the Year

Tom Ryan, Merriconeag

Ryan guided Merriconeag to the school’s first state championship in its first season as a full squad. Merriconeag avenged a one-point regional loss to Waynflete with a six-point victory in the Class C state meet.

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:


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