It took a month for the Rough Riders

By David Carducci Record-Courier staff writer Published:

It took a month for the Rough Riders to get comfortable in an offensive set, toying with a 6-3 and a 6-2 offense before finally settling on a 5-1.

During that time, coach Jeff Thompson waited while his players experimented with different serves.

He also waited for a young sophomore to grow comfortable in the role of setter.

Finally, in the last few weeks, everything came together.

"It couldn't have come together at a better time," said Thompson.

In the final weeks of the season, everything started to click for the Rough Riders.

Seniors Erik Nieman and Chris Lewis turned their jump-serves into a pair of devastating weapons.

Sophomore Will Harper grew from an unsure rookie into a seasoned setter.

Now Roosevelt finds itself in an exciting position _ two wins from a state championship.

The Rough Riders (17-7) will make their first appearance in the state tournament in six years when they face Centerville Saturday at 3 p.m. at Dublin Scioto High School.

"I'm not going to make any predictions," said Thompson. "I haven't made any all year. But if we play with the same excitement we had in the regional tournament, we'll be all right."

The Rough Riders rode an emotional wave last weekend, beating Walsh Jesuit and Akron Hoban to earn the right to represent northeast Ohio at this weekend's state tournament.

Roosevelt previously qualified for the state tournament from 1990-1992 when the championship format included 16 teams playing in a pool to determine who advanced to the final eight. Now, with a new four-team format, Roosevelt is guaranteed its best finish in school history.

"We've never been this far," said Thompson. "This is the first time that we've been in the final four in the state. It's nice to be able to say we are the best in the northeast region. That is saying a lot. These kids have an incredible amount to be proud of."

The road to the final four has been a complete team effort.

Nieman, a state honorable-mention selection, and Lewis, the only four-year veteran on the team, have developed into the team's leaders, along with fellow senior Jeff Harrell.

Seniors Giacomo Furlani, Dan Barabas and Jim Sweeney, junior Josh Swartzlander, and sophomores Matt Burns and Will Harper have also played key roles.

The Rough Riders' opponent, Centerville, is a 20-win team that includes a first-team and a third-team All-Ohio selection.

The winner will likely face Cincinnati Elder (24-1) and Southwest region player of the year Jake Lengrich in the title game. Elder meets Columbus Bishop Watterson at 1 p.m.

How the Rough Riders serve will determine where they finish in the tournament.

"Our strengths against a potent opponent is to serve as tough as we can, to make them start off from behind the attack line," said Thompson. "Certainly, our gameplan is to utilize (Erik Nieman and Chris Lewis) jump-serves. Jeff Harrell has a nice floater. Josh Swartzlander has been working on a jump-serve, and he'll have the green light to use it this weekend."

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