For the second time in three years, two high school cross country runners from Maine earned a trip to compete on a national stage.

Seniors Abbey Leonardi of Kennebunk and Matthew McClintock of Madison qualified for the Foot Locker cross country national championships in San Diego next month by placing among the top 10 runners Saturday at the Northeast Regional held at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park, N.Y.

Leonardi, who finished second in the 11-state regional for the third year in a row, becomes the first runner from Maine to make three trips to nationals since the event started in 1979.

She took over the lead near the halfway mark and held it until the final mile. She then took turns in front with Pennsylvania state champion Angel Piccirillo, who kicked to victory in 18 minutes, 1.4 seconds.

Leonardi’s time over the 5-kilometer course was 18:05.7.

“I’m a little disappointed (to not win),” Leonardi said by phone Saturday afternoon, “but happy just to be able to go back (to nationals) again.”

McClintock spent much of Saturday’s race in second place before holding on for sixth in 15:51.2. Edward Cheserek of Newark, N.J., the top-ranked high school runner in the country, set a course record of 15:20.5 to win by 25 seconds.

“Through 800 meters I was just flowing right along with the pack and the pace actually seemed fairly slow,” McClintock said by phone. “We were a little slow through the mile mark but the pace just felt nice and I started to feel my confidence (grow) throughout that first mile.”

McClintock said four runners passed him near the 2-mile mark. He caught one in the third mile, then lost a finishing sprint to a Pennsylvania runner.

“It was awesome,” said McClintock, the two-time Class C state champion who placed 42nd in the regional meet a year ago. “I’ve wanted to go (to San Diego) ever since I started hearing about Foot Locker. Just to know that I’m going to be one of (the national finalists) is really awesome.”

Two years ago, Emily Durgin of Cheverus placed seventh to join Leonardi on the expense-paid trip to San Diego, where runners are housed at the fancy Hotel del Coronado.

Durgin planned to race as late as Wednesday, when she was scheduled to receive a cortisone shot for pain in her left foot. When a slight break was discovered, she was fitted with a boot and told to rest, so she remained home in Standish.

McClintock has made a verbal commitment to continue his career at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania.

Leonardi said Saturday she has accepted a scholarship to the University of Oregon. She had also visited Boston College, Providence, Georgetown and Princeton.

“The coaches seemed really awesome,” Leonardi said, “and the team was really nice and the facilities there are amazing.”

The Kennebunk senior finished 16th and 22nd in her previous trips to San Diego. The only other runners from Maine to compete in two national championships are Louie Luchini of Ellsworth (1997 and 1998), Ben True of North Yarmouth and Greely High (2002 and 2003), and Sintayehu Taye, formerly of Portland High, who reached the finals in 2005 and 2006 while attending Cushing Academy, a Massachusetts prep school.

“I think my biggest goal (at nationals) is just to feel like I did my best there,” Leonardi said. “I feel like the last two years I didn’t peak at the right time. I felt like I peaked at the regional meet and I knew I could have done better (in San Diego).”

Other Maine runners who fared well Saturday were Camden Hills freshman Willow Parker, who placed 23rd, and Maranacook senior Abby Mace, who was 27th.

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

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH


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