By ERIC X. VICCARO
Ste. Genevieve Herald
Ste. Genevieve County is a remarkable runner’s paradise.
Look at all the cross country championship placards adorning the wall inside Peggy J. Johnson Gymnasium at Ste. Genevieve High School.
See all the hard work that’s going into the cross country program at Valle Catholic, under head coach Samer Zoughaib.
Just take a simple stroll throughout the community, and there are plenty of challenging hills and a slew of flatlands where runners can improve both their strength and speed, respectively.
Runners could pick a different course for all 365 days during a calendar year, and not get bored with the lush scenery of brick buildings, pastoral parks, rolling farmlands and that grand body of water known as the mighty Mississippi River.
“From a geography standpoint, you nailed it on the head,” said former Ste. Genevieve head cross country coach Brian Jett. “It certainly helped us become better runners.”
In cross country training, runners are put through their paces in what’s termed 400-meter repeats.
Coach Jett used them to transform Ste. Genevieve into one of the biggest juggernauts in all of Missouri.
One of Jett’s favorite routes is Lime Kiln Road, which runs alongside the South Gabouri Creek for a long stretch.
“I had some great memories throughout my coaching career,” Jett said. “The people in town have a strong work ethic across the board. There’s teamwork, and everyone is goal-oriented.”
The Dragons have produced a pipeline from here to colleges across the region, and they’ve picked up Gatorade state runner of the year accolades along the way.
Taylor Werner went from here into national prominence at the University of Arkansas. Taylor’s sister, Shelby Werner, competed for Missouri Southern in Joplin. Ben Naeger is a current standout for Belmont University down in Nashville.
All this bountiful fortune can be traced back to 1995, when Jett originated the cross country program at Ste. Genevieve.
Scholastic runners today are changing their focus from hills to flatlands thanks to the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
Recently, MSHSAA moved the state meet from the ever-changing terrain of Oak Hills Golf Course in Jefferson City to Gans Creek at the University of Missouri in Columbia.