Lanny Doan never expected this type of season.
The Frank W. Cox boys’ cross country coach entered his sixth year with the program, and 27th overall coaching, as unsure as ever.
Doan returned his top two runners from last year’s third-place 6A Conference finish — Jonathan Lomogda and David Scherrer — but lost five of his top eight.
“Last year was the best team I had ever coached,” Doan said.
Then arrived a group of five freshmen this fall that changed his mind.
Nick Elfelt, Jack Young, Ben Werve, Reese Smith and Simon Falck have helped elevate the Falcons as the conference’s top contender in the 5K event.
Behind Lomogdas’ impressive 15:38 and Scherrer’ s 16:14, Elfelt (17 minutes flat), Young (17:03) and Werve (17:13) round out Cox’s top five times. The trio own the 6A Conference’s top three freshmen times and the fourth, fifth, and seventh overall.
The talent among the young runners runs so deep that Smith’s 17:45 time would land him in any other conference team’s top five. It’s also the fourth fastest freshman time in the conference, right behind his teammates. Adding yet more depth is Falck, whose best time this year is a respectable 18:36.
“I have never seen a group of freshman this talented,” Doan said. “It just doesn’t happen here at the Beach district, and a school that doesn’t have an academy. These guys are all local, and to get five, it’s phenomenal.”
The Falcons trot out five of the District’s top nine runners each meet.
Cox’s top-five average time of 16:37 is almost a minute faster than second place Ocean Lakes (17:34).
The Falcons have already clinched the Conference’s regular season title — a crown jockeyed by Ocean Lakes and Landstown for the better part of the last decade — for the first time in recent memory.
Doan was forced to revamp his predictions of the youngsters as soon as the season started.
“They (freshmen) ran faster in our first meet than I thought they’d be running in our last,” he said.
The young runners all came through the same middle school together — Great Neck, less than two miles from Cox — where they ran track together for three years.
They’re also best friends off the course, which helped their transition to the high school level.
“It’s crazy all starting on varsity and getting a chance to run together and compete for top spots,” Young said. “Yelling at each other, chanting and always trying to finish better.”
They’re a goofy bunch. They took to the “Fab Five” moniker their coach started using with them and joke about how unintimidating they look.
“Definitely a lot of fun when we show up on the starting line and everyone looks at us,” Elfelt said with a laugh. “We’re always a lot smaller than the other teams.”
They let their running do the talking. Their friendship doesn’t keep them from competing against one another, either.
“A lot of times, freshman in high school come in and they’re afraid to challenge the upperclassmen or afraid to challenge each other because they’re friends,” Doan said. “But they don’t race like ninth graders — they’re just aggressive and not really intimidated.”
Lomogda has witnessed first class the underclassmen’s impact on the Falcons.
The All-State senior, who’s favored to finish as a top-three runner at the state meet later this fall, enjoys the unique dynamic.
“It’s exciting to have some young blood,” Lomogda said. “It keeps everyone competitive. It keeps us fresh. They provide a lot of energy.”
The Falcons have three more regular season meets before the conference meet Oct. 21 at Kellam High School.
Barring injuries, Cox will be a favorite to win the 6A Conference and South Regional tournaments. Doan and his runners are aiming for a top-three team finish at the state championships.
“We’re head and shoulders above any team I’ve been able to coach so far,” Doan said.
His goofy Fab Five have a lot to do with it.
Follow Joe Saade’s coverage of Virginia Beach high school sports on Twitter @SouthsideTeams. To submit story ideas, or to suggest players or teams to profile, email him at Joe@southsidedaily.com.