Wisconsin prep Sinclair reminds fans of Askrens

Updated: November 7, 2023

Photo: Aeoden Sinclair (right) added an impressive title to his resume when the nation’s top-ranked wrestler at 190 pounds won the Super 32 championship. (Tony Rotundo photo)

By Mike Finn

The team mascot of Milton High School in Wisconsin is the Red Hawk. But there is also the school’s “unicorn” … or otherwise known as Aeoden Sinclair.

The nation’s top-ranked high school wrestler at 190 pounds understands why some people might call him that, including his mother, Abby.

“My mom calls me that because my hair looks funny and I’m a redhead,” laughed Sinclair, who added that he’s heard friends also call him “bear and the patient panda. People have a lot of names for me.”

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But the one person who uses the term Unicorn — the lovable fictional horse-like creature with a horn — to describe Sinclair is his high school wrestling coach Pat Jauch.

“He knows he is different,” said Jauch, who added that Sinclair’s personality could be compared to Ben Askren, also a Wisconsin native and NCAA champion who returned to his state and currently coaches young wrestlers like Sinclair at the Askren Wrestling Academy. 

“That’s why he and Ben get along so well. They are just unique people. It’s hard to describe them. I’m glad he and Ben hooked up because they challenge each other on the mat and intellectually and Aeoden needs that.”

Jauch, who has served as the school’s head wrestling coach since 2004 and also teaches AP Government and Civics at Milton, first met Sinclair when he was in grade school. And the young wrestler with the unique first name — pronounced “Ay-den” and one of Gaelic tradition that was given to him by his father Michael, an immigrant from Scotland — started wrestling much later than most of today’s elite prep wrestlers.

“Aeodin didn’t wrestle from birth,” Jauch said. “My understanding of his entry into wrestling was that some of our youth coaches saw him playing youth football tackling kids and told him, ‘You should try wrestling. And in Aeoden’s way, he said something like, ‘Sure, I can try that and then he fell in love with the sport.”

Jauch said Sinclair’s love for wrestling and life is unmatched by any wrestler he has coached at this school, which sit 35 miles southeast of Madison.

“He has a curiosity about everything,” Jauch said. “He has a curiosity about life or any subject that he is learning. He’s just a high-level thinker and the total package. He’s the guy who will talk to every single kid in the hallway. He is universally enjoyed by students and adults. He’s a 4.0 (grade-point) student. I’ll never have another guy like this and I’ve had a lot of good kids. He’s sincere. He cares about people.”

Sinclair admits he believes there is nothing he can’t accomplish if he puts his mind to it.

“I think wrestling has taught me that,” said Sinclair. “Dan Gable said, ‘Once you’ve wrestled, everything else in life is easy.’ I’m sure a lot of people think I am crazy but I truly believe I could drop everything right now, pick up a new task and be in the top one percent in the world. I truly believe I can be amazing at anything I try.

“This is going to sound arrogant, but for someone to have such a high level of success, they need to be relatively unique. They can’t do what everyone else does.”

But Sinclair also knows he is not accomplishing his wrestling success — which includes two state championships, a recent Super 32 Challenge title and a college wrestling future at the University of Missouri — without the help of coaches like Jauch and Askren.

“I consider success if I’m improving,” said Sinclair. “The winning of big tournaments is a by-product of my skill improvement. It’s cool to say I’m No. 1 in the nation or that I won Super 32. I think it’s cooler when you’ve worked on something for eight months, implement it in a match and then it works. I have all these different strategies and I feel like it’s a game of physical chess.”

Oddly, Sinclair ranks one of his few setbacks from the past year — a 5-3 loss to Iran’s Toohid Noory and 1-1 showing at 92 kilograms at the U17 World Championships this past summer in Turkey — as one of his greater moments in wrestling.

“When I lost to the Iranian, it was heart-breaking,” he recalled. “But once I got off the plane here, I went right to practice. The only way I’m going to beat these guys is if I continue to practice and get better. That moment was the defining moment this past year; being on the World stage and not being able to perform like I wanted to. I like to believe that I can’t be beat because I will always come back.”

Sinclair accomplished that a month later at Flowrestling’s “Who’s No. 1?” event in September when he beat the nation’s second-ranked wrestler Connor Mirasola, also a Wisconsin native (West Bend High School) who trains with the Askren Wrestling Academy.

“It’s that amazing, having someone at that high of a level within the same state is why our state is so good,” Sinclair said. “We are highly competitive and push each other.”

Sinclair said he started training under Askren after his freshman year when he lost in a super sectional to Mitchell Mesenbrink — a former state champ from Arrowhead High School in Wisconsin who will compete this year at Penn State.

“I said if I want to be the best, I have to go where the best are,” Sinclair said. “I would go to practice every day and Ben could see I really wanted to be good so we started working together and things took off. He helped me so much and he continues to help me. The progression from my freshman year to now has been pretty crazy.”

While the two-time Hodge winner Askren may have been known as more of a “funk” wrestler during his days as a high school, college and Olympic wrestler, Sinclair knows he’s a little different than his teacher.

“I feel like I’ve got some tricks in my back pocket,” joked Sinclair. “I don’t do it a lot of times and I feel like my baseline stuff is at a pretty high level. But if I need to (use) funk, I will do it. I’m not afraid to wrestle in all positions. Ben showed me all his skills, but I’d rather use my baseline.”

Sinclair credits several things for his mat success.

“My ability, my perseverance (when I start something, I really want to finish it) and I would say I’m really intellectual about my wrestling,” he said. “I’m able to understand different positions. A lot of people can see wrestling. I can just talk to Ben about it. Also, I think I’m like a turtle, I never forget. I can remember a move from seven years ago and can tell you exactly where it came from. At the end of the day, wrestling is just problem solving.” Sinclair is also happy to know he is following in the footsteps of Askren and Missouri’s two-time NCAA champion Keegan O’Toole, also a native of Wisconsin, when he eventually ends up wrestling in Columbia, Mo.

“Ben has always been about making improvements and I think that’s why a lot of guys go to Missouri,” said Sinclair, who expects to compete at 197 pounds at the Big 12 school. “We have an athlete-developmental approach. Not a lot of us spend time cutting weight and our practices aren’t meant to kill you. You are meant to learn and grow.”

Sinclair, who hopes to study economics in college as well as learn Russian, “so I can talk trash to the Russians at World and Olympic competitions,” said he believes wrestling and life will present him many options in the future well beyond his college career.

“Wrestling has given me so much,” he said. “It’s a lifestyle, but not just my life. I would not identify myself as only a wrestler. 

“But wrestling has provided me with a lot of structure and it has allowed me to get a leg up in other areas of my life, including my academics, which has also helped me become a better wrestler.  They definitely go hand-in-hand and it’s something I really care about.”