At 13 years old, Sara McLaughlin is the first All-American athlete at Scituate High, and she has yet to take a class at the school.
McLaughlin is entering her freshman year as a Sailor with a résumé that makes graduating seniors envious. As the first eighth grader to join the Scituate varsity wrestling team, she went 19-4 against boys in the regular season, then won an MIAA girls state championship at 100 pounds, taking all of her matches by pin without surrendering a single point.
But that was just the start. The week before, she won the Massachusetts Wrestling Association’s New England Championship. A few weeks later, she went to the NHSCA championship in Virginia Beach, where she became an All-American with a seventh-place finish.
In May, she won Massachusetts state championships in Greco and freestyle despite having to wrestle up two weight classes at 119 pounds, then took fourth in the 14U 105-pound weight class at Women’s Nationals in Fort Worth, Texas.
By the time June rolled around, she was walking onto the mat to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck – her chosen walk-out music – at Madison Square Garden in an exhibition match as part of Final X, an event put on by USA Wrestling. While other grapplers battled for coveted spots on the US Senior World Team, McLaughlin turned in the quickest pin (42 seconds) of the day.
“She’s the toughest person I’ve ever coached,” Scituate wrestling coach Kevin King said. “She is so mentally unbreakable, it’s ridiculous.”
McLaughlin came to wrestling through her family. Her father, Brian — who works in financial consulting and has his captain’s license — captained the wrestling team at Medford before it was disbanded. Her mother, Laura, grew up in Bradford and was a professional modern dancer in London, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
But her origin story begins with her little brother, Connor, who was wrestling at a Hingham youth practice when Brian spotted a girl who didn’t have a partner.
“My dad asked if I’d be her partner,” she recalled.
Unbeknownst to everyone involved, at that moment a wrestling career was born.
“I did a lot of sports: soccer, figure skating, softball,” McLaughlin said. “I didn’t like any of them as much as I like wrestling.”
She joined the Riptide Wrestling Club, learning under co-founder and coach Damien Bogle.
“At first I wasn’t the best wrestler,” she said. “I lost a lot of matches. It’s more fun when you win and I wanted to have more fun, so I knew I had to put more work in.”
McLaughlin started attending four or five wrestling practices per week. She spends hours in her backyard climbing rope to build strength.
King, who also coaches with Riptide, was so encouraged by what he saw from McLaughlin that he put in for the first eighth-grade waiver in program history.
“It’s really hard to have an eighth-grade boy ready to wrestle high school boys,” he says. “I have this little eighth-grade girl and she was ready, which was incredible.”
McLaughlin was nervous before her first practice.
“At first I didn’t really want to be on the high school team,” she says. “I was scared of a bunch of high school boys. I’m a little eighth-grade girl. What if they don’t like me? I did a practice or two with the guys and they were really nice and got along really well. They treated me like one of them.”
McLaughlin made her high school debut in the Scituate Opener on Dec. 11, 2021. She lost her first match by decision, 5-1, to Kevin Robinson of Barrington, R.I. She followed up with a 40-second pin for her first high school win, then found herself facing Robinson again in the third-place match. She pinned him in 4:02.
“She came alive after her first loss,” King says. “She’s tough on top. She hammers people on top. I like her tenacity after she gets someone on their back.”
But what has King most excited is how much potential the 5-foot-6 grappler still has to uncover.
“Her skill isn’t that great,” he says. “She’s getting so much of this done with her mental toughness. … If her skill was already amazing, that’s where her ceiling would be. Her skill has a whole level or two to jump.”
A straight-A student who loves diving into a good book, McLaughlin isn’t looking too far ahead when asked about her future.
“I hope that I can win girls states next year,” she said. “I just want to improve as much as I can and see how far I can go.”
King, meanwhile, wonders if she might join North Andover’s Danielle Coughlin (the Division 2 champion at 106 pounds in 2013) as the only female to win MIAA state championships wrestling against the boys. He can also see her wrestling in an ever-expanding college scene.
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “I’m Team Sara. She’s a sweet kid. She is this quiet, sweet kid off the mat. She gets on the mat and she’s a killer.”
Steve Simoes retired after 19 seasons as head coach of the Hopkinton baseball team, in addition to five years as the Hillers’ softball coach and 15 years as a football assistant. The 2005 Globe Coach of the Year led Hopkinton to five Tri-Valley League titles, three section championships and more than 300 wins . . . Amanda Sheehy, the 2018-19 Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year, has stepped down as Needham girls’ basketball coach after nine seasons at the helm to focus on her family . . . Belmont has hired former Newton South assistant Darren Martinez as its head boys basketball coach. He replaces Adam Pritchard . . . Ashland announced Mike Schena as its new girls’ soccer coach to replace Dan Keller, who stepped down after three seasons. Schena was named Greater Boston League Coach of the Year twice and won two league titles while at Lynn Classical.
New Bedford High introduced two new head coaches. Kristen Scotti replaces Andrea Nogueira as the girls soccer coach. Scotti is a former University of Rhode Island player who coached in New London, Conn. Brian Coon will take over the Whalers wrestling program following the departure of Steve Sentes, who left to become the athletic director at Barnstable. Coon wrestled at Niagara County College before coaching in Lake City, South Carolina and in the New Bedford Sharks youth club.
▪ The New England champion St. John’s Prep wrestling team had a school-record 11 members selected as National High School Coaches Association Academic All-Americans. Adam Schaeublin and Rawson Iwanicki were honored for a third time, while Alex Schaeublin and Tyler Knox enjoyed their second selections. Elias Hajali, Matt Mitchell, Zach Richardson, Dylan Greensten, Jack Blizard, Charlie Smith and Alex Bajoras were first-time Academic All-Americans.
▪ Thomas O’Brien, a 6-foot-6, 275-pound left tackle/nose guard from Reading, who will play a post-grad year at Phillips Andover before heading to Harvard . . . Nashoba Regional rising senior Josh Cordio has committed to wrestle at the Air Force Academy . . . Former St. John’s Prep catcher Alex Lane will be transfer from Bryant for his senior season at Northeastern next season. There he will reunite with former SJP teammate Tyler MacGregor, who a grad transfer from Columbia . . . Former Boston Latin standout Packy Naughton recorded his first MLB save on July 8 for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Brendan Kurie can be reached at email@example.com.