In many ways, New Berlin West's Chad Mathwig and New Berlin Eisenhower's Mitch Sperka are a lot alike.
They were leaders of their respective teams this past winter. Mathwig, a 6-foot-5 junior forward, averaged a team-best 18.6 points and 9.2 rebounds, and Sperka, a 6-2 senior forward, paced his squad with 16.7 points and 9.5 boards.
Mathwig was named the Woodland Conference Blue Division's player of the year, and Sperka shared the Black Division's top honor with Whitnall's Will Pelkofer. And both New Berlin stars claimed spots on the 2010 NOW All-Suburban Boys Basketball Team.
Yet differences remain
But as similar as these two players are, their careers have been equally different.
Mathwig is one of two repeat NOW selections this year - the other was player of the year J.P. Tokoto of Menomonee Falls - and is the first Vikings boy in the 21-year history of the team to make it more than once. He had a breakout campaign as a sophomore when he averaged a double-double and appears poised to have one of the finest four-year careers in school history.
"He had a very nice year and he had a nice year despite the fact he had to change his game a little bit," New Berlin West coach Jeff Lewiston said. "That's something he'll have to do to continue to grow as a player. It's hard to be a big leader as a sophomore. As a junior, that changed a lot. His game is continually evolving."
Sperka, on the other had, averaged just 3.8 points per game as a junior before bursting onto the scene this winter. He is the latest example to travel the Eisenhower road to success: fill a key role as a junior and step into the spotlight as a senior.
"We have heard that in the past, coaches come up to us and say, 'Who do you have that nobody has heard about?' " Eisenhower coach Dave Scheidegger said. "The kids commit to the team, they commit to the program. They want to be a part of this tradition and keep things going. They get handed the responsibilities and they don't want to drop the ball.
"This year (Sperka) took over the main role. He knew what to do and went after it and he was ready to go."
Growing close, winning games
Sperka was one of 10 seniors who formed a close-knit group that helped the Lions win their first 20 games of the season and finish 22-2 overall.
"It was pretty special," Sperka said of his team's near-perfect regular season. "Everyone on the team, we're really close. We're all really good friends. We were doing something we all love and showing up to do it every day and being with the people you have the most fun with makes it a whole lot of fun. Every practice and every game, we always went hard and we had fun doing it."
Sperka not only had to step out of the shadows cast by the 2009 graduating class, but also that of his sister, Kelsey, the school's fifth all-time leading scorer.
"We were always really competitive with each other," Mitch Sperka said. "We'd play one on one back when we were younger. She graduated two years before me and she accomplished quite a bit as an individual and with her team. I had some big shoes to fill, but I just worked my hardest to do it."
Spotlight a welcome sight
As for Mathwig, he's grown accustomed to being in the spotlight. As a sophomore, he burst onto the scene by averaging 13.9 points and 10.2 rebounds. This season, he was no longer an unknown commodity and opposing teams put more schemes to stop the junior big man.
"Thomas More did a good job (and held him to one point)," Mathwig said. "They put two or three guys down on me but we had other guys step up for us. We had a lot of guys that contributed (when teams focused on Mathwig). I did get frustrated some times, but there were still other guys that came and picked me up and that's what a team is all about."
Mathwig spent a good chunk of his season dealing with injuries to both ankles that forced him to miss three games around Christmas, the first time ever an injury has kept him out that long. But Mathwig rebounded to have a solid second half of the season and is looking forward to his senior campaign.
"I definitely want to improve my perimeter skills so I can be more dynamic and help the other guys on my team," said Mathwig, who has been receiving interest from college recruiters to play football as a tight end or receiver. "I'll work on my ball-handling, and obviously, my post moves, and just keep working hard."
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