Abbey Leonardi wanted to return to San Diego in December not simply for the sunshine and warm weather, but for the chance to prove she was better than the country’s 22nd-best schoolgirl cross country runner.

On Saturday, the junior at Kennebunk High made her wish come true.

For the second consecutive year, Leonardi was the runner-up in the Foot Locker Northeast Regional cross country race at Sunken Meadow State Park on New York’s Long Island.

The top 10 finishers from each of four regional races earned trips to compete in the Foot Locker finals Dec. 11 in San Diego.

“I’m really excited because last year (in San Diego) I felt like my performance didn’t necessarily show what kind of shape I was in,” Leonardi said Saturday. “I just want to get back there and feel as though I did my best.”

Cheverus junior Emily Durgin, who ran with Leonardi in San Diego last year after placing seventh at Sunken Meadow, finished 24th on Saturday and was one of the three 2009 national qualifiers from the Northeast whose spots were taken by other runners.

“I felt pretty good going into it,” said Durgin. “I don’t really know what happened. I haven’t really had a bad race all season, so it’s kind of weird.”

The defending champion, Aisling Cuffe, the New York state champion ranked first in the country, won the 5-kilometer race in 17 minutes, 51 seconds. Leonardi was second in 18:03 — nearly a half-minute faster than her 2009 time over the same course, albeit in conditions that were less windy and slightly warmer, although still hovering around 40 degrees.

“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t paying attention to the time at all,” Leonardi said.

“I was just running to get in the top 10, so I’m kind of surprised at my time. I’m happy that I was faster.”

Leonardi said she remained in a secondary pack with Cuffe as the New Jersey champion, Megan Venables, took the early lead.

Not until ascending Cardiac Hill near the 2-mile mark did Leonardi make a move on the leaders.

“I think I went out a little too fast last year, so I just tried to stay a little more conservative at the start,” she said.

“I knew once I got up that hill, that was where the race would really start for me. I felt good all the way up there. I just tried to pass the one girl in front of me and then I just tried to stay there to the finish.”

Leonardi crossed the line six seconds ahead of the third-place finisher, Megan Lacy of Marlton, N.J., with Venables in fourth another three seconds later.

Besides Cuffe and Leonardi, the only other repeat national qualifier was Lauren Mullins of Binghamton, N.Y. She finished fifth Saturday after placing ninth a year ago.

The final two national berths — ninth and 10th places — went to Jackie Nicholas of Woodbury, Conn., and Ariel Beauregard Breton of Deerfield, N.H., both timed in 18:28, faster than Leonardi’s 2009 runner-up time of 18:31.

Two weeks ago, Nicholas finished third in the New England meet in Thetford, Vt., just behind Durgin.

“Once I realized I wasn’t 10th, I kind of gave up,” said Durgin, who was timed in 19:03. “There were probably three of four girls who passed me within a few feet of the finish line. At that point I didn’t care at all.”

Leonardi skipped the New England meet for the second straight year after winning it as a freshman, the only time in her high school career she failed to qualify for the national finals.

Brunswick junior Katie McMahon also ran in Saturday’s featured girls’ race. She placed 42nd in 19:58.

In the featured boys’ race, three Mainers placed among the top 100 runners.

Madison junior Matt McClintock, the Class C state champion, was 42nd in 16:37; Boothbay junior Chase Brown was 77th in 17:05; and Telstar freshman Josef Holt-Andrews was 98th in 17:22.

Other runners with Maine connections in the seeded race were Andy Reifman-Packett, a Mt. Ararat junior, in 121st place (17:40); Chris Miller of Blue Hill (135th, 17:50); Fred Quesada of Freeport (141st, 17:55); Maxwell Payson of Falmouth (151st, 18:06); and Ben Lewis, a junior at Telstar (165th, 18:33).

The Northeast Regional includes runners from all over New England, as well as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Washington D.C., and U.S. citizens in overseas military installations.

Foot Locker also held regional races in North Carolina and Wisconsin on Saturday to fill 30 of the 40 slots available for San Diego. The other 10 runners will be determined from next Saturday’s West Regional in California.

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

[email protected]