When Danielle Coughlin was little, her older brother, Larry, taught her how to wrestle.
The Coughlin house in North Andover would shake as the two battled, with Danielle growing more interested in the sport as each year passed.
“I remember [Larry] saying, ‘If only you were a boy, if only you were my little brother, you’d be like a nasty wrestler,’ ” said Danielle. “ ‘We’d be like the wrestling siblings.’ ”
That didn’t matter to Danielle, a senior, who became the first girl to win a Massachusetts state wrestling title on Wednesday, securing a 5-3 victory over Winchester’s Jordan Darby in the Division 2 106-pound final.
“Honestly, it’s so overwhelming,” said Coughlin. “After I won, a guy in the stands actually turned to me and he said, ‘Smile, I have to send a picture to my daughter in Africa and tell her that in this country women can become anything.’ I actually started crying when he said that.
“I got a little teary-eyed when I won the state title and my mom was hugging me and I was thinking about my name on the board. But when this guy said that to me, I actually realized that [what I had done] was a little bit bigger than I had first thought.”
Coughlin’s win not only made history for her, it also helped North Andover secure its fourth consecutive state title, besting Winchester by 9 points.
Winchester had entered the finals with a healthy lead, meaning North Andover needed a sweep by its five wrestlers to defend the title.
“It was not only a key win for herself, but if she lost her match, then we would have been down a considerable amount of points,” said North Andover coach Carl Cincotta.
When Coughlin showed up for tryouts as a freshman, Cincotta knew immediately she had a chance to be special.
“It’s not even close,” said Cincotta, when asked to compare Coughlin with the other girls he’s coached. “Danielle’s a state champion, she’s totally different.”
No one was a bigger supporter of Danielle’s decision to continue wrestling in high school than her brother, a former Globe All-Scholastic wrestler who helped calm his parents’ initial nerves.
“I think my dad was a little nervous about it because he didn’t want his daughter wrestling guys, but I was all for it,” said Larry Coughlin, who also won a state title in 2006 at 152 pounds. “I knew when high school came around she’d have to make a tough decision on whether or not she’d stick with it, so I told her, ‘If you’re going to stick with it, you may as well be good.’ ”
Danielle, who was named a cocaptain this season by Cincotta, has 104 career wins. She is 29-6 this season, and prides herself on not having been pinned since sophomore year.
Being a cocaptain is not a responsibility Coughlin takes lightly, nor was it an honor Cincotta bestowed without making sure of his decision. He takes a team vote, but also requires written letters from candidates.
“I remember putting so much effort into that letter,” said Coughlin. “A lot of kids just write a page and just say, ‘I’m going to be a good leader because this, this, and this.’ But I wanted to really write a sincere essay. I didn’t talk about how I’m a girl, or say that just because I’m the first girl wrestler on the team that you should make me captain. I didn’t mention my gender. It wasn’t about that at all, there was way more to being captain to me.”
This season started roughly for the Scarlet Knights, but it was on one of their lowest days — a loss in Plaistow, N.H., to powerhouse Timberlane — when Coughlin became more motivated than ever.
As Coughlin was seconds from losing her match, the crowd began to chant, “over-rated, over-rated!”
“I don’t know if they were talking about me, or my match, or my team,” said Coughlin. “But either way, it really hit me, it offended me. I don’t ever want to be called overrated again. I think that was motivation to come back and do well at the end of the year and finish up my career well.”
When Coughlin’s final match came to a close, her brother was standing in her corner, just behind Cincotta.
“I always knew there was a possibly [Danielle could win a state title],” said Larry Coughlin. “But it was just such a special moment when it happened.”
As it turned out, Danielle and Larry have become wrestling siblings.