Both times Abbey Leonardi flew back to Maine from San Diego the past two Decembers, she carried a twinge of regret about her performance at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships.

Not that she had held anything back on the two-loop, 5-kilometer course around Balboa Park against 39 of the finest schoolgirl runners in the country. Still, she expected better results than 22nd in 2009 and 16th last year.

“I tried my hardest,” she said. “But I felt like it wasn’t my best race. So hopefully, this will be.”

A senior at Kennebunk High, Leonardi is the only four-time Class A state champion in Maine history and the state’s first three-time finalist at the Foot Locker meet, which began in 1979 as the Kinney Cross Country Championships.

“Really, just the main goal is to perform to what I think my best is,” she said before leaving for California. “Hopefully, being there two years before will help me be familiar with the course and how everything is set up.”

Leonardi and Madison High senior Matt McClintock of Athens will represent Maine at today’s meet, which includes 10 runners from each of four regions. The girls are scheduled to race at 12:15 p.m. The boys begin 45 minutes later.

It marks the first time in the 33-year history of the event that Maine will be represented in both races.

“I’m not completely sure of my race plan,” Leonardi said. “Last year I started off out front and then had an off day. The year before I started off slower and kind of got stuck in the back.”

Leonardi qualified by placing second — for the third year in a row — at the Northeast Regionals on Nov. 26 at Sunken Meadow State Park on New York’s Long Island. McClintock qualified by placing sixth at Sunken Meadow, a big improvement from his 42nd the previous year.

A three-time Class C state champion, McClintock also placed third in New England this fall.

“Just running with the lead pack at New Englands and running with it at (the Northeast Regionals) has given me confidence going forward into this next race to get up there with the leaders and shoot for a top 10, top 5 or even just go for the win out at nationals,” McClintock said. “I’m not going to back down off of it and be happy with making it there. I’m going to run my hardest and hopefully be happy with an All-American spot.”

The top 15 finishers receive All-America designation.

Leonardi has accepted a scholarship to continue her career at the University of Oregon. McClintock, who was leaning toward Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania earlier in the fall, is keeping his options open in case a Division I coach shows interest.

Not only will Leonardi and McClintock have each other in their cheering sections, another familiar face from Maine will be rooting them on. Among the elite athletes in San Diego serving as honorary captains is Ben True, a North Yarmouth native, Greely High graduate and two-time Foot Locker finalist who placed fifth in 2003 and is currently training to make the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.

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

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