BILLINGS – Paige O’Toole’s high school career ended the same way it began: on top of the Class A soccer world.
“It feels pretty great,” said the Laurel goalkeeper. “I’m just proud that our girls pulled it out (Saturday).”
The senior keeper has started since Day 1, leading the Locomotives to the state title game every year.
“She’s been our rock star goalkeeper since she was a freshman, and Paige has never wavered,” said head coach Aloma Jess.
“Oh my gosh,” gushed Locomotives forward Kaitlyn Dawes, “she is so good. It’s going to be a big loss next year without her, but she’s very good.”
Just how good? O’Toole allowed less than one goal per game in three of her four seasons. She’s been an all-conference selection since her sophomore campaign, and in true star fashion, saved the best for last: a shutout against rival Billings Central Saturday for her second state championship.
“She’s always there and she makes the most amazing saves,” said Jess. “She’s kind of the strong silent type; we wish she was a little more vocal.”
“She talked a lot (Saturday), which helped us,” Dawes said. “Just her nature, I feel she’s very calm, she’s very light-hearted, so when she tells us something we know that she knows what she’s talking about and we just take it.”
Not only did she talk more than normal, O’Toole even got in on a goal celebration — if just for a moment.
“Yeah, she’s like, ‘Good job, but I got to go back,'” recalled Laurel midfielder Aspen Cotter. “So she was ready, but she was calm.”
And she was able to stay calm thanks to a young defense that has played well beyond its years all season. In fact, the biggest save of the day belonged to freshman Sierra Branstetter, who shut the door on what appeared to be an empty-net goal.
“She’s a great player,” O’Toole said of Branstetter. “We knew that coming into it, but she’s really grown throughout the season, and the more she gets worked up the more fight she puts into the game. She’s not going to give up at any point.”
“Yeah, they saved our butt a few times,” agreed Cotter, “so hopefully for the next three years they’ll be doing the same thing.”
In the end, even Jess was able to smile through her sunglasses.
“It was the perfect storm,” Jess said. “Everything was perfect. I can’t ask for anything better.”