By Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
Perception is merely a matter of understanding
When North Penn senior Caleigh Sperling announced her commitment to Thomas Jefferson University last weekend, the perception was that the Rams had gotten a steal. With a resume like Sperling’s, which now includes an HGSL 17U MVP to go with an HGSL title and 16U HGSL and SOL Colonial first team nods, it wasn’t hard to see why it was perceived that way.
What Sperling perceived was all that mattered and what she perceived was the perfect fit to continue her basketball career.
“I saw some of it, it feels good to be complimented that way,” Sperling said. “I’ve been working so hard, so it did feel good to be recognized.”
Jefferson jumped into the mix at a good time. Sperling said she first started talking with the Rams after her junior season with North Penn, coming off that first team all-league campaign that came a win shy of the state playoffs.
As she continued to put together another excellent summer with the Lady Runnin’ Rebels, the same travel team she’s been with since ninth grade, her relationship with Jefferson grew. Following a visit and a few opportunities to get to know some of the players and the coaches, Sperling had a final audition of sorts this month at Jefferson’s one-day Elite Camp.
North Penn's Caleigh Sperling announced her commitment to Jefferson. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
There was no perceiving it any other way, they saw her as part of the future of the program.
“I really liked the benefits Jefferson had,” Sperling said. “Coach (Tom) Shirley likes to redshirt freshmen and I really liked the benefit that has, because you leave with your Masters and I thought that was a really good option.”
Growing up, it wasn’t a doubt that Sperling would be an athlete, it would just be a matter of what sport she gravitated to. Both her parents, Matt and Jenna, were college athletes at Drexel where Matt played baseball and Jenna played basketball.
Matt Sperling is still playing, having just helped the Lansdale Tigers win their third straight Perkiomen Valley Twilight League title. Jenna Sperling is still involved with basketball too, having served as Caleigh’s top rebounder for quite a few years now.
“I’ve never had a trainer, it’s always just been her,” Caleigh said.
Early on, Sperling and her family decided they would play any recruitment or offers coming in pretty quiet. While she had interest from all three levels, talked with plenty of programs and had a handful of offers to shuffle through, the talented guard never tipped her hand.
Her play, both for her high school and club teams, would help perceive where she was at.
“They just stressed continuing to work hard,” Sperling said. “You might get down seeing everyone posting the offers they get, but I think it’s just good to focus on yourself, what you can do to get better and not worry about everyone else.”
Sperling, who also plays field hockey for North Penn, first got the idea of playing at the next level when she joined the Rebels program in ninth grade. She got plenty of reps too, with North Penn coach Bri Cullen giving her more and more responsibility each of the last two years while she also continued to emerge on the HGSL circuit.
Looking at the last two years, that’s where Sperling is most proud of the work she’s put in. It’s hard to perceive her as anything but a totally well-rounded scorer now, her start as an outside shooter evolving into a three-level option with a potent mid-range game an effective tool all summer.
“With the Rebels, I think I’ve really learned how to run and play really good transition basketball and speed it up a bit,” Sperling said. “The Rebels, I was more of a shooting guard, I could get to the corners and didn’t have to be the point guard where with North Penn, I’m one of the taller people on the team so I had to be relied on in the post too, even though I am a guard. I liked playing both ways, it’s different.”
Her Rebels team had a core group that’s been together for a few years and it showed in the team’s championship summer. Heading into her senior year at North Penn, it’s a similar story with seniors Sperling, Liv Stone (Cincinnati soccer) and Kelly Donnelly along with junior Cam Crowley coming back to the Knights, plus at least one new addition Sperling is excited about.
“I’ll get to play with my younger sister this year, we had a young team the last couple years but we’ve kept all of our players,” Sperling said. “Our freshman class looks pretty strong, so I’m looking forward to this year.
Sperling adds another nice piece to the Rams’ 2024 class alongside combo guard Kaci Mikulski (Wildwood Catholic/NJ Shoreshots) and post Carlie Lapinski (Manasquan/NJ United), even if they likely won’t see the floor until the 2025-26 season.
One thing Sperling picked up on during the recruiting process was that it can be a two-way street. Coaches can tell prospects what they like, but the perceptive players will turn around and try to find out what’s missing.
“It’s always ok to ask what you can do better,” Sperling said. “I was even asking Coach Shirley after he’d watched me what I could do better, and he was already giving me feedback like where I could shoot it, where I should cut, things that were already helping me out.”