Editor's note: This is the fourth in an eight-part series profiling some of the state's basketball stars as 406mtsports.com previews the 2017-18 season.
LAUREL – One of many things Amber Griffith, coach of the Laurel girls basketball team, knows about Paige O’Toole is that everybody could use some of O’Toole’s disposition.
Griffith and O’Toole reside on opposite ends of the fiery spectrum. Griffith has always been noted for her competitiveness, whether as a high school player at Miles City, a college player at Miles Community College and Rocky Mountain College, or as a coach. As for O’Toole, talk to her even for a little while and it’s tough to imagine she gets worked up about anything.
“She just has fun with everything she does,” Griffith said before a recent practice. “Nothing is too serious. Nothing is a big deal. She enjoys life, you know? Obviously, for the most part, we could all probably learn something from that. It’s just a game, and the sun is going to come up the next day.
“I’ve always teased her about this, that I could stand to be a little more like her. She could probably stand to be a little more like me, sometimes.”
Griffith laughed a little at that last sentence, because the coach knows the former is more likely to happen than the latter. Especially since Griffith admits that her 6-month-old daughter, Annlee, is already softening up that exterior. Add in yet another three or four months of O’Toole’s chill style, who knows what can happen.
But to suddenly have O’Toole, who is the only senior on Laurel’s roster this season, preaching fire and brimstone to her teammates? Ain’t gonna happen.
“I’m not going to ask Paige to do anything but be her,” Griffith said. “It’s not a natural fit for her to be barking orders. That’s not her.”
Instead, Griffith will be content to let O’Toole’s personality be a steadying force on a team built on youth. Junior point guard Aspen Cotter, an all-stater last season, seems ready to take over more responsibility, and a large freshmen class hints at a possible big future for the Locomotives.
In what could be an open Eastern A race this season, steadiness will be warranted. It’s something that O’Toole helped bring to the Laurel soccer team, which last month won its second Class A championship in four seasons with her as the starting keeper.
“We’ve all bonded across the grade levels,” O’Toole said, explaining why she doesn’t feel like a lone wolf on the basketball team. “Especially since I played with a lot of these girls in soccer, that’s helped. It’s still a close (basketball) team, even though there’s no other seniors.”
Growing up, O’Toole wanted to be a firefighter like her father. In the past few years O’Toole has drifted toward a less volatile field. Animals have always been a big part of the O’Toole household – dogs, cats, chickens – and her love for animals has led her to apply to veterinary schools.
When her schedule allows, she job-shadows with an area veterinarian, which has only stimulated her interest in the vocation.
O’Toole’s change of heart for a future profession seems to run parallel with her role with the Locomotives. Maybe she won’t be called on in the most dramatic moments of a game. But she can be the calming hand every team needs.
“Paige has a natural personality for just being a kid everyone loves to be around and everyone likes,” Griffith said. “That, right there, is a quality of a good leader.”