By BRETT MARSHALL
If you called Lindall Cox a non-traditional cross country coach, he likely wouldn't get upset.
That's because he never ran the sport when he was in high school, and had limited experience with it prior to his arrival at Holcomb High School in the 1990s.
Cox figures the regular meets of a brief cross country season that spans approximately nine weeks is relatively meaningless.
He pays little attention to team standings at weekly meets. He's more interested in how his individuals are training, making a plan, and getting ready for regionals and state.
The game plan masterminded by Cox has worked well for the Longhorn runners through the years. With Cox guiding the program, the school has won three 3A state titles (2001, 2008, 2009), and finished second a year ago when nobody expected much from a team, which graduated the bulk of its back-to-back state championship teams.
"I've always focused on what I thought were the major events we run for," Cox said on the eve of going to the school's 14th straight state meet.
Unlike the previous 13, this state meet will be contested at Rim Rock Farm, just north of Lawrence, which has been the annual state site for Classes 5-6A, but now has added 3A while Classes 1, 2 and 4A remain at Wamego Country Club.
"When we went to Wamego, we had total confidence in how we wanted to run the race because we were so familiar with the layout," Cox said. "Lawrence has things that Wamego doesn't. There's more hills that are severe ups and downs. At Wamego, you'd go up a hill and then come back down. At Lawrence, there's some very steep hills that are hard to run down. Then, you've got to pull up and make some turns. It's put together differently."
This group of Longhorns is making their own mark on the school's tradition-rich success, and doing it mostly with underclassmen.
Make no mistake about it, this team revolves around senior Brendan Thomas, the top runner in every meet for two years now in which the Longhorns have competed.
"He's our lead runner and been tops in every race, and I expect him to be in the mix for the top five," Cox said. "He's looked good and last week I thought he looked really strong (runner-up at Cimarron's regional meet). I think he'll be able to handle the course as well as anybody and he's certainly been solid for us all the way through the season."
For much of this season, Cox has not had his full complement of varsity runners; until Saturday's regional that was run at the Cimarron Golf Club.
"We only had our full varsity (seven runners) twice all season," Cox said. "So it's been hard to know how well they'd do when they did come together. We saw that on Saturday at regionals. We knew we had the potential to be pretty good. We don't have any bag of tricks planned for this Saturday. We'll just go run, and the one thing I know is that this group will leave it all out there on the course."
Cox said he had left it to Thomas and fellow senior Chris Foreman to lend a hand in bringing the underclassmen along as the season progressed.
"I don't think early the younger kids understood why we were doing certain things, not getting wound up about early meets," Cox said. "We didn't place well, but I wasn't really concerned. We knew what the season would be like and we have prepared for this."
Cox's Nos. 2 and 3 runners most of the season have been sophomore Tayler Chelemedos and freshman Jose Tapia. They will be joined by junior Caleb Stewart, sophomore Ian Rupp, Foreman and freshman Gustavo Tapia.
"Our depth has always been one of our strengths," Cox said. "Your Nos. 3, 4, and 5 runners are where you come home with a trophy. We've never had an individual champion, but our gaps have never been far apart. Our four through seven have all finished ahead of the others at some point this season, and all could run side-by-side."
Cox said Wichita-The Independent would be heavily favored to win this year's 3A state title as they return intact the entire 2010 state championship squad. He says fellow Great West Activities Conference member Scott City will also be among the top teams challenging for team honors as they are led by junior Joey Meyer.
The 3A boys will run the final race of the day at Rim Rock at 12:30 p.m. Lakin's 3A girls qualifying team and two Cimarron girls — Kari Blattner and Joisan Smith, both freshmen — will run at 11 a.m.