It might be the offseason for just about every collegiate sport, but that’s not stopping athletes from a number of Ohio State programs from competing on the international stage at the World University Games, held in Naples, Italy. Representatives from men’s volleyball and swimming and diving began their competitions over the weekend.
The Summer Universiade, now in its 30th iteration, is sponsored by the International University Sports Federation, with competition taking place every two years in a different city. The winter games are similarly scheduled every other year.
Team USA is competing in more than a dozen sports at the games, which are scheduled to wrap up July 14. Other sports include archery, basketball, fencing, gymnastics, judo, taekwondo, shooting, soccer, table tennis, tennis, track and field and water polo.
In all, six members of the swimming and diving team, as well as a coach, are set to participate in the games in Naples in the coming days.
Anchoring the diving team is Ohio State head diving coach Justin Sochor, who is filling a similar role for Team USA. Sochor has coached the Buckeyes since 2013 and has earned two conference championships since. He’s also been named head coach of Team USA for the Pan-American Games and FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation) World Championships.
For the U.S., senior Molly Kowal finished third in the 1500M free for the swimming team with a time of 16:20.94. The top American finisher, Kowal finished behind Japan’s Waka Kobori and Australia’s Moesha Johnson. It’s been a solid year for Kowal, who was the national runner-up in the 1650 free at the NCAA Championships this past season.
On the diving side, Socher will have familiar faces in Jacob Siler, Jacob Fielding and Lyle Yost, all of whom are diving for Team USA.
In addition to the four athletes competing for the U.S., two current student athletes are swimming for their home countries. Kathrin Demler, the Big Ten’s 200M fly champion this past year, is representing Germany. Incoming freshman Thomas Watkins, meanwhile, is competing on behalf of his native New Zealand. Finally, Connor Isings is swimming for the Canadian squad.
Blake Leeson, who finished his career at Ohio State this past spring, is competing on behalf of Team USA volleyball. In all, 20 teams from around the world are competing in men’s volleyball in Naples. Team USA is part of Pool B, along with South Korea, China, Portugal and Russia. The top two teams from each pool will advance to the playoffs.
Team USA will likely have a tough road ahead. The squad did not place in the most recent Summer Universiade, held in Taipei in 2017, and will have to contend with Iran, Russia and Japan -- the top three finishers from that year’s competition.
Leeson is already a legend in program history, and is ranked in the top-10 in hitting percentage, solo blocks and total blocks. He was named an All-Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) selection three of his four years as a player in Columbus. Men’s volleyball finished this season falling in the quarterfinals of the MIVA Tournament to Loyola-Chicago.
The rifle and pistol teams might not have been present at the World University Games, but they were wrapping up respective competitions at the USA Shooting Rifle and Pistol National Championships in Fort Benning, Georgia, which were completed during the last week of June.
On the pistol side, Samuel Gens, a first-team All-American this past season, was the top finisher in the 50M Men’s Free Pistol competition. Gens was part of the Open Air Pistol Team that took first place at this spring’s Collegiate Pistol National Championships. However, it wasn’t just current student-athletes who got in on the action. Gens’ assistant coach, Anthony Lutz, finished second in the competition.
Pistol team head coach Emil Milev also tied for first in the 25M Men’s Rapid Fire Pistol to reach the finals of the competition. Ultimately, he finished second-overall in the category. Lutz, with a third-place finish in Men’s Air Pistol, earned a spot as a qualifier for the International Shooting Sport Federation World Cup, scheduled for this summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The women’s team also made its mark in the competition, with incoming freshman Katelyn Abeln taking fourth-place in the 25M Women’s Sports Pistol and eighth in the 10M Women’s Air Pistol.
For rifle, rising senior Rhiann Travis earned a 13th-place finish in the women’s 3x40 and a 23rd-place standing in Women’s Air Rifle. Bailey Urbach, who graduated from Ohio State in May, took the 17th-place spot in the Women’s Prone event. Three other Buckeyes placed in their respective rifle events.