Leone was among just eight girls across all classifications statewide to break 18 minutes this year. She did it twice, setting a then personal-best of 17 minutes, 46 seconds at the Meriwether Classic on Sept. 16 and clocking 17:52 at the district championships Oct. 27.
Leone has since lowered her 5,000 meter personal-best to 17:39 in winning the Pacific Northwest Regional XC Showcase two weeks after the state meet.
For her accomplishments. Leone is The Columbian’s All-Region girls cross country runner of the year for a second consecutive season.
As a sophomore, Leone became state champion and led Seton Catholic to the Class 1A team title despite a difficult start to the season. COVID swept through the team, sidelining Leone and her teammates for most of September.
This year was different. Leone threw down an early marker in winning the Meriwether Classic in Hillsboro, Ore., going nearly 20 seconds faster than she ever had for 5,000 meters.
“It was faster than I thought it was going to be,” Leone said. “But then again, I also had some pretty good competition.”
Seton Catholic cross country coach Jaysun Pyatt said not having early-season disruptions set the table for Leone to succeed.
“We could be consistent and set up meets that were working toward getting her under 18 (minutes) on a consistent basis,” Pyatt said. “The training allowed that and the schedule allowed that to happen.”
Despite being the favorite at the state meet, Leone took nothing for granted. With wind gusting up to 30 miles per hour over an already challenging course, Leone ran an aggressively fast 5:38 for the first mile. That built a large lead she never surrendered.
“It just shows her dedication and the mindset,” Pyatt said. “Conditions were not favorable. But to stand up and say hey let’s go out, run as hard as we can and see what happens. The mindset was top notch.”
Leone is eyeing some national events over the winter before turning her attention to track and field. She won the 1,600 and 3,200 at the Class 1A state meet last spring before winning national titles in the 1,500 and 3,000 at the USATF Junior Olympics over the summer.
All that success has put Leone on the radar of many colleges, including several Division I programs. Leone said she will take her time during the recruiting process and balance her interests outside of running.
“It has been interesting,” Leone said. “It’s something to explore a bit more and get my priorities straight on what colleges I prefer instead of who comes to me. Academics is a priority for me over running because you can only be so good.”
When asked how far Leone can take her running career, Pyatt didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“As far as she wants to,” he said. “I’m super excited to see what she does after high school. She’s got the mindset and good things will happen.”
The rest of the All-Region team
Sydnee Boothby, Washougal
Senior placed third in the Class 2A state meet after winning district and league titles, both in a PR time of 18:24.
Gracie Buzzell, Camas
Senior placed fourth at district meet, seventh at bi-district Westside Classic and 12th at the 4A state meet. Season best of 18:56.
Daphne Evenson, Skyview
Sophomore was runner-up at the district meet and placed 26th at the 4A state meet. Broke 19 minutes twice with PR of 18:28.
Natalie Peddie, Camas
Senior was district champion, sixth at the bi-district Westside Classic and finished 16th at the 4A state meet. Season best of 18:53.
Elle Thomas, Washougal
Junior placed fourth in the Class 2A state meet and finished runner-up in the district championships for a second straight year.
Charlotte Wilson, Union
Third at district meet, fifth at bi-district Westside Classic and 20th at 4A state meet. Ran under 19 minutes four times with PR of 18:16.