Emilie Belanger soars to historic heights with Regina Riot

Left to right: Emilie Belanger, Payton Kuster and Jennilea Coppola with the championship trophy after the Regina Riot defeated the Calgary Rage 53-0 in the Western Women’s Canadian Football League’s championship game Saturday in Saskatoon. ROSHELLE MONTGOMERY

Although she was in her first season with the Regina Riot, Emilie Belanger provided a wealth of experience that was essential in the run towards the 2017 WWCFL championship. Having donned Canada’s colors in the IFAF Women’s Worlds, Belanger’s body of work has also involved the rise to prominence for female football in the traditionally hockey-mad province of Quebec.

A veteran of the Montreal Blitz during their dominant run in the IWFL, Belanger’s sojourn into the Prairies extended her great gridiron legacy, helping to continue the progress of closing the gap, unifying the game from coast to coast.

Having played with Canada’s entry at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, Belanger brought an amazing football resume. Considering that first-year Riot head coach Olivier Eddie had also been part of Canada’s coaching staff, there was an element of familiarity that allowed Belanger to take such a huge step in her career. Reflecting on the decision to expand her horizons and don the Riot colors, Belanger approached it as an invaluable learning experience, eager to enhance her gridiron experience,

“I love learning, getting different perspectives on football techniques and on life. I believe that having the opportunity to be coached by different great coaches and sharing the field with many different amazing teammates makes me a better football player.

I knew Olivier Eddie and a few Riot players from Team Canada in 2013 and I wanted to share the Riot experience with them. It is a special thing to practice together everyday and to live somewhere where almost everyone lives 12 minutes away from each other.

I am really happy I got to experience it and I will carry many precious things I’ve learned from everyone here into the future.”

Photo credit: 2013 WWC Finland

Prior to joining the Riot, Belanger experienced another unique career milestone. Spending one season with the renowned Chicago Force of the Women’s Football Alliance, there was a unique connection. Force head coach John Konecki is a two-time IFAF gold medalist, having also helped assemble the roster for Team Australia at the 2017 IFAF Women’s Worlds. Belanger’s time in Chicago also signified another unique facet, one defined by numerous Canadian women showcasing their skills south of the border.

Wearing the Riot jersey in 2017, Belanger’s growing gridiron legacy represented more than an opportunity to enhance the club’s defensive presence. Her winning perspective and experience playing with some of the game’s biggest stars on both sides of the border allowed the Riot a privileged opportunity to acquire a worldly, yet incredibly talented individual capable of adding an element of strong leadership.

In spite of bringing of a shy stoicism to the roster, Belanger’s impact was one personified by hard work through example. Such achievement allowed her to demonstrate the considerable effort needed to excel as one of the elites of the gridiron. Simultaneously, this made Belanger an invaluable mentor for a rookie crop eager to emulate her heroics, standing guard over them while fortifying the roster,

“This is a bit hard for me to answer since I am someone who is fairly shy and not super loud or outgoing, I do not really see myself as a leader.

On the other hand, I do think that my years playing with the Blitz and the Chicago Force help me to stay calm and focused during games, especially during harder defensive drives.

(Also), I think that having someone that is “experienced” and who is not panicking on the field helps younger players to remain focus as well. Seeing players like that really helped me as a rookie and I definitely want to be that kind of teammate for anyone I share the field with.”

Reflecting on a milestone filled season with the Riot, there were many proud highlights for Belanger. Indubitably, her inaugural season with the Riot resulted in a brush with history. From the outset, she was part of a historic first in WWCFL annals, as the Riot became the first team to shutout the powerhouse Saskatoon Valkyries.

Coincidentally, the Valks would play another part in Belanger’s WWCFL experience. Both teams would grace the gridiron in the Prairie Conference championship game. As the final game contested at Saskatoon’s Mosaic Stadium, it was a shared sense of history for players on both teams, adding to the game’s mythology while providing the setting for a game that Belanger shall be forever proud to have participated in.

Playing in very humid conditions, uniforms soiled in a combination of sweat and sacrifice, both teams waging bragging rights in a brutal gridiron conflict, such intolerable heat served as an extra adversary. With overwhelming exertion on the part of all competitors, each looking for a heroic opportunity to stimulate their team to the heroic finish, an event in the game proved to be powerfully iconic.

An interception by a teammate served as a concrete moment for Belanger, putting into perspective what her inaugural season in Regina meant, setting into motion the cascading moments that culminated with a WWCFL championship.

“It is really hard to choose one favourite moment from a championship season, but if I had to choose one moment it would be when Courtney Taffelmeyer (#26) made an interception and ran it in for a touchdown.

It was during the conference championship against the Valkyries. The temperature was over 30 degrees that day, we had a few harder drives on defense where the Valks got ground on us and we really needed the momentum of the game back.

She made that interception, and something really special happened with our energy on defense. Everyone was dead tired but we all followed her with our hands up to the end zone. I just couldn’t help but run with my hands up while cheering and smiling as big as I could! Just thinking about it makes me emotional, it was a very special moment filled with happiness, hard work, teamwork shared with my teammates.

Of course having a championship season where we took home two trophies as a team will always be on the top of my best football memories.”

Contributing to the Riot’s championship game victory against the Calgary Rage, who were making their first appearance in the Finals; it was an event that placed Belanger in rarified air. Capable of boasting of championships won in both the IWFL and the WWCFL, it is a historic feat worth more than just significant cultural currency.

Although Belanger approaches her glorious achievements as good fortune, such a humbling self-examination does not tell the whole story. An occurrence of events goes beyond circumstance. Undoubtedly, Belanger’s solid work ethic and positive attitude was just as crucial in helping create optimal opportunities for victory.

The reality of so many great victories is that it has placed Belanger as one of the game’s true constants, a character on a remarkable stage whose assuring presence allowed the game to grow. Worthy of a unique place in Canada’s expanding history of elite female football; the distinct pair of championships is destined to provide her with a well-deserved place among its accomplished heroes.

“First thing that comes to mind is that I am lucky. I am lucky to have the opportunity to be part of two great football organizations. Lucky to have the opportunity to be coached by coaches who have a lot of experience, a lot of football IQ and a lot to teach. Lucky to have teammates who work hard everyday and who play for each other. Lucky to be able to say I played on two great teams, in two different leagues and two different versions of a sport I love. #HardWorkWins”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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