New coach keeps bar high for Deer Lakes boys basketball

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Thursday, November 17, 2022 | 5:48 PM


There have been great expectations in recent years for the Deer Lakes boys basketball team, which enters a new season with a new coach in a new classification.

Don’t count on those expectations changing.

Albie Fletcher, a Deer Lakes graduate and former basketball assistant at the school, certainly doesn’t see a letdown after the Lancers went 86-66 in seven years under former coach Terence Parham, who resigned to devote more time to his family and job.

Fletcher was elevated to the top spot in June and takes over a Deer Lakes program that drops one classification to 3A, where the Lancers will join Apollo-Ridge, Burrell, Derry, Ligonier Valley, Shady Side Academy and Valley in Section 3.

“We don’t look at it any differently (than Class 4A),” Fletcher said. “It’s basketball, and if you want to be successful, you lace them up and get out there and play hard from start to finish. That’s what you expect your opponent is going to do.”

Deer Lakes’ first game under Fletcher is scheduled for Dec. 2 against Class 5A Shaler.

“We’ve loaded up our nonconference schedule with some 5A and 4A teams,” Fletcher said.

The Lancers also will face Class 5A Highlands and Class 4A teams Avonworth, Blackhawk, Freeport and Hampton out of section.

Despite losing three seniors, including leading scorer Armend Karpuzi (17.0 ppg), Fletcher harbors similar lofty expectations since Parham came along and led Deer Lakes to six consecutive WPIAL playoff berths after missing out in his first year at the helm.

“We’re going to be a little different team this year, but I can tell you we’re not lowering the bar,” said Fletcher, a 1994 Deer Lakes product and former basketball, football and track and field standout at the school who went on to letter four years at Division III Carnegie Mellon, eventually earning all-conference honors in the University Athletic Association.

Fletcher later coached football as an assistant at Deer Lakes for two seasons and at CMU for five.

A former point guard on Deer Lakes’ section championship teams in 1991 and ‘92, Fletcher switched from the football side of coaching after leaving CMU and in 2018 turned his attention to basketball at Deer Lakes, where his son Aiden is a junior guard this year.

“We won a section title the year I came on board with Terence,” Fletcher said. “That was the first time since I was in school that we’d done that. It was a special moment for me.”

It was a special bond, too, that Fletcher developed with Parham. He expects to carry on with the same fervor that his predecessor displayed with just two starters returning this season.

Fletcher is looking to senior point guard Bryce Robson and junior backcourt mate Billy Schaeffer to lead the Lancers, who are coming off a 16-7 record and a trip to the PIAA Class 4A playoffs, where their season ended with a 66-63 loss to District 6 opponent Penn Cambria.

Robson, who was Deer Lakes’ second-leading scorer (14.4 ppg) last season, enters the year as a four-year starter at point guard, similar to Fletcher’s time at Deer Lakes.

“Brcye is a great leader,” Fletcher said. “He’s a point guard who got thrown into the fire as a freshman. His expectations are the same. He’s done a really nice job as a leader, and he’s a great kid in the classroom as well.”

Schaeffer (7.7. ppg) will be counted on by Fletcher to complement Robson in Deer Lakes’ attack.

From there, it’s a puzzle that Fletcher is attempting to solve before the start of the regular season. He’ll have a ton of options, it seems. Nate Litrun, a 6-foot-5 senior center, began last season’s schedule in the starting lineup but later flourished in a role off the bench, Fletcher said.

Litrun heads a long list of players hopeful of comprising the team’s regular rotation.

“This is probably the most depth we’ve had on a team since I’ve been here, for sure,” Fletcher said. “I plan on playing 10 guys, and that could affect our pace.”

In addition to Karpuzi, a freshman this season at Division III Pitt-Greensburg, Deer Lakes also moves on without two other graduated players — Justin Brannagan and Lucan Tiglio.

“I told our guys we’ve been to the playoffs in all four years that I’ve been here before this,” Fletcher said. “We’ve been to two state playoffs. We’re not lowering the bar.”

Fletcher said the team has responded favorably since he took over in June.

“We might have to play a different style, but the results we’re expecting will be similar,” he said. “These kids are going for a section title this year. We think we have the ability to do it.”

At a glance

Coach: Albie Fletcher

Last year’s record: 16-7 (8-4 Section 1-4A)

Returning starters: Bryce Robson (Sr., PG), Billy Schaeffer (Jr., SG)

Top newcomers: Nate Buechel (Sr., G/F), Michael Butler (Sr., G), Nate Litrun (Sr., C)

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