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Bill Beckner Jr.
Burrell's Max Garda sprints during basketball practice Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014, at Burrell.

After a rebuilding year at Burrell where new coach Shawn Bennis started from the bedrock level up, the Buccaneers boys basketball team faces another uphill climb, and in new surroundings.

The team will move up to Class AAA this season after finishing 6-16 last season in Class AA. While more local opponents dot the Section 1-AAA schedule — Freeport, Knoch, Highlands and Valley among them — a more physical style of play is expected.

Perennially strong Hampton also drops down from Quad A and joins Section 1.

“It will be a challenge; a war every night,” Bennis said. “We’ve talked about the physicality that Triple A teams have. Being physical and rebounding will be keys to our success.”

The last time Burrell tried Class AAA on for size, it didn’t go well. The Bucs went 15-29, including 5-23 in section play from 2010-12.

“The last journey wasn’t one to speak of,” Bennis said.

Bennis is plenty familiar with Class AAA because he used to coach at Highlands. He is anxiously anticipating the two Section 1-AAA games against his former team, which is expected to be a section contender.

“Stosh (coach Tyler Stoczynski) has done a great job (at Highlands),” Bennis said. “They have some depth that they didn’t have before. We played them twice in the summer. They thumped us the first time. I was late getting to the one game, and they were chanting and screaming at me, all in good fun.”

Six key players return for the Bucs, including leading scorer Brendan Lettrich, a junior guard who averaged 16 points per game. Also back is sophomore guard Max Garda (11 ppg) and senior guard Joey Cox (11 ppg).

Garda, a rising ball-handler and scorer, is recovering from a broken right pinky finger. He suffered the injury during football season as the Bucs’ quarterback.

Cox, who played on the Bucs’ surprising WPIAL Class AA runner-up team two years ago, is a streaky 3-point shooter.

Two other seniors figure into the mix: Dylan McNutt and Collin Carter. “They will give us some size and bulk,” Bennis said.

Junior Lucas Cable should join Lettrich, Garda and Cox in the starting five. The fifth spot, Bennis said, is “up for grabs.”

In the running, and key contributors nonetheless, are 6-foot-2 sophomore forward Nick Kotecki and 6-4 sophomore forward Drake Thompson, who is on his way back from an ACL injury.

Kotecki shows promise in the paint.

“He’s gotten stronger and has improved his handle,” Bennis said. “The kid is 6-2 and dunks with ease. We’re trying to get him to be more aggressive.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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