Payton Kuster headlines new generation of leaders for Regina Riot

(photo credit: Darren Steinke)

On an eventful day that saw the Regina Riot capture their second straight WWCFL championship, there were many intriguing facets that added to its remarkable outcome. From the outset, Olivier Eddie was in his first season as the Riot’s head coach, while Claire Dore made the visceral decision to hang up her helmet.

Perhaps the most exciting element was the impact made by the Riot’s younger players, signaling the arrival of a new generation ready to maintain the high standard of excellence. No player hinted at the launch of this exciting new era like Payton Kuster.

Akin to so many other ladies of the gridiron, Kuster brought an accomplished athletic background where she excelled in another sport. Competing with the University of Regina Cougars varsity rugby 7s team under the tutelage of head coach (and former national team member) Julie Foster, Kuster was its starting flyhalf.

Bringing a series of strong instincts and dogged determination, Kushton’s aptitudes on the rugby pitch made her a natural to don the Riot colors. To be an athletic convert brought legitimacy to her toughness, validating her gridiron ambitions.

“I have always enjoyed being involved in more physical, aggressive, contact sports, so in that sense my background of tackling and rucking in rugby definitely prepared me for the tackling and hitting elements in football.

(Photo credit: Arthur Images)

In rugby, you are always playing defensive and offense, so the evading and pursuit skills I have learned and developed in rugby were also very beneficial to my performance in football.

I have found that football is a lot more of a technical sport than rugby, as players have specific roles and responsibilities solely based on their position, but what I love about both of these sports is how close of relationships you develop with your fellow teammates—the Riot is my second family.”

Having first joined the Riot in 2016, she would spend her inaugural season on offense. Transitioning to the defensive side of the game in 2017, it allowed for an element of newly found confidence that set the foundation for the glories to come.

Gaining a new perspective for the game through her defensive duties, the transition also brought with it a change to bond alongside several of the Riot’s defensive stalwarts. Undoubtedly, the defensive aspect allowed Kuster to hone her skills, subsequently seeing her game evolve while gaining the opportunity to learn from new mentors.

‘At first, I was quite uncertain about my possible transition to defense, as I have always viewed myself as a receiver and enjoyed playing on offensive. However, as soon as I started taking reps as a defensive back I completely fell in love with the position! It turned out to be the perfect spot for me to play in, and I very quickly desired to improve as an athlete in this area.

I am very grateful to have had such wonderful defensive coaches helping me along the way, as well as my fellow defensive backs that were extremely supportive of my transition and willingly shared their time and knowledge with me.

Ashley Clayton and Karlie Jackson really helped me develop as a corner, and Mira Trebilcock was an amazing mentor to me as I played safety. I am very lucky to have worked with such talented teammates and coaches as I moved into my new position.”

Successfully defeating the Saskatoon Valkyries in the Prairie Conference championship game, the advancement to the WWCFL championship game would prove to be a validation of the heralding of new stars for the Riot. With the game contested in Saskatchewan, the coordinates brought with it a symbolic motivation for the Riot.

Prior to the opening kickoff of the WWCFL championship game, a tremendous sign that Kuster truly arrived as a star was evidenced in the opportunity to carry one of the team flags. A symbolic privilege bestowed upon her that saw fellow teammate Hope Jordens carry the other team flag, this dazzling duo filled with great promise, followed out onto the field behind legendary competitor Claire Dore.

As this game also signified the last game contested at Mosaic Field, it was one that provided the Riot, the Valkyries and the entire WWCFL with remarkable cultural currency. With Dore in the twilight of her Riot career, the presence of Kuster helped to signify the dawn of a bold new era of vigorous leaders eager to build on the legacies of their illustrious predecessors.

“It was an incredible feeling to carry the team’s flag alongside my fellow teammate, Hope Jordens, who is a 2nd year receiver. Claire Dore, one of our team captains, has previously been one of the main flag carriers, as she has been with the Regina Riot since the team first formed in 2011.

This was her last season with us, as she announced before the game that she was retiring. So for her to pass on the flags to Hope and myself was truly a tremendous honor. Claire Dore has been an amazing mentor to me over my two years with the Riot.

Not only has she been an inspiring leader, but she has done so much to promote and support females in this sport—I truly admire her dedication, passion, and leadership abilities.

Claire has played a significant role in taking our team to the elite level it is at today, and I aspire to be the strong and passionate athlete she is. The legacy Claire has left behind will never be forgotten, and I could not be more humbled to have carried the flag in her honor.”

(photo credit: Darren Steinke)

Undoubtedly, it was the kind of motivation that allowed Kuster to evolve into a prime time player. In a game that saw her liberated from her rookie status, ready to blossom into a cornerstone, she held the audience captive with one of the most dominant performances in championship game history.

Having scored on a pair of punt returns, Kuster channeled her talents from the rugby pitch, becoming a part of the female game’s fabric in the football mad province of Saskatchewan, it was a performance that was the intersection where dynasty met destiny. Also recording a pair of interceptions against the Rage, it was an effort that shall be mythologized among the peerless performances of the WWCFL’s first decade.

Bestowed the honor of the Riot’s MVP for the championship game, it embedded the impact of such an exciting individual. While such an overjoyed achievement was equally humbling for the jubilant Kuster, the occurrence of events that brought her to such a pinnacle was one where she praised the collaboration of her teammates.

“I was at a loss of words when I found out; it was a very special moment. Throughout the entire game I was so proud of each and every one of my teammate’s performances, and was thrilled with all the talent my teammates were showcasing.

Our offense was unstoppable, and our defense was making big plays—the whole team was executing their jobs to the fullest, and to be apart of that felt pretty darn fantastic!

I was super excited to have scored on two punt returns, as that has been a goal our special teams players have been working hard to achieve, but I would not have been able to make those plays if I didn’t have 11 other girls busting their butts to make big blocks and hits for me.

A big part of my success this game came from the 11 other girls on the field working hard alongside me. Our team created a hash tag this year, hard work wins, and ultimately, that pretty much sums up our teams performance during this Championship game!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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