by Torsheta Jackson
The Delta State University Men’s and Women’s Swimming Team capped off the 2021 season by claiming four individual national titles at the NCAA Division II Championship meet. Junior Emanuel Fava won his second straight 200-yard individual medley and senior Giulio Brugnoni finished first in the 100-yard backstroke. Women’s team senior Lucia Martelli won the 100-yard butterfly and junior Celeste Turner finished at the top of the board in the 200-yard butterfly.
Turner has Mississippi ties. She is originally from Marietta, Ga, but moved here before her senior year of high school. In her final varsity meet, the Tupelo High School graduate won gold in the 2017 MHSAA State Swim Championship butterfly and broke the state record with a time of 55.94 seconds. Turner hopes that the success of her and her team will help grow interest in swimming in the state.
“Swimming in Mississippi is not very popular and there are not many programs so I am very happy to try to bring more light to it and encourage other swimmers to continue to swim in college,” she said. “I really hope that other Mississippians will kind of see me and be inspired.”
Martelli, Fava and Brugnoni are originally from Italy. They became interested in the Delta State swim program when Fava and Brugnoni heard about the program from friends on the team. Brugnoni was thrilled to have the opportunity to join the internationally known program.
“I got excited once I heard (this offer),” he said. “Actually, my parents got even more excited than me. ”
The trio says that it was difficult at first mastering the language, culture and schedule, but the experience has been amazing. “The first year I was kinda lost, I guess because everything was different, said Brugnoni. “In the second and third year I (made) more friends and became more used to the early practices here and made this my life. Right now when (I) realize that four years have gone by, (I) try to enjoy every single moment of it.”
“I think that it took me a while to get used to this type of environment where classes and swimming were together, “ Martelli added. “It’s a very cool experience when you begin to understand how it works and you start making connections and friends. It’s really hard now that it is my senior year and I am about to leave.”
In addition to winning national titles, the four helped lead their teams to high overall finishes at the NCAA DII Swimming and Diving Nationals held in Birmingham, Ala in March. The men’s team finished 6th with 299 points and the women’s team finished 10th with 184 points – the most ever earned in school history. It is the first year Delta State has finished in the top ten nationally in the same year with both teams.
“All four of them are very hard-working high-caliber athletes with great character,” Murray told Mississippi Scoreboard. “They are very easy to coach and always seek out feedback constantly wanting to get better. They’ve done really well-performing on big stages in the past and everything just aligned this year to make that happen.”
The Statesmen have been a leader in the swimming world for many years. The success of the DSU program can be traced back to long-time coach Ronnie Mayers who led the program for two decades and was known as one of the nation’s top swim coaches. When Murray came to the area in 2005 to coach the Delta Aquatics Club, he was immediately impressed by Mayers and the program that he had built. Mayers led the program for two decades and won a number of conference titles, awards and accolades. Murray took over when he retired in 2010. Mayers continued to be a huge supporter of the program and Murray.
“Coach Mayers started the program in the 80s and laid a great foundation of having a great atmosphere and building a quality team environment,” said Murray. “We’ve just been able to build on that every year. I really feel like his presence is here still after retiring, being the athletic director and the aquatics center being named after him. We’ve got a really special thing here at Delta State. ”
The Ronnie Mayers Aquatic Center opened in January of 2001. The state-of-the-art facility is housed on the Delta State campus and features a 50-meter Olympic-sized pool with movable bulkheads and a separate diving well with 2 diving boards. It can seat over 2,500 spectators and has been home to many state, regional and national swimming competitions.
“We’ve got great facilities and great support from the administration and athletic department. Our athletic department and university president are a constant presence at our competitions.”
Outside the pool sits a trophy case showcasing the historic success of Delta State’s swimming and diving program. In 11 years at the helm of the program, Murray has continued the program’s early success. According to the university website, he has coached 39 athletes to 153 NCAA Division II All-America honors, been named New South Intercollegiate Swim Conference Coach of the Year ten times, and was named Men’s NCAA DII Coach of the Year in 2019.
This year was also the first time the swim team has competed against another in-state team. Delta State hosted Milsaps College for their senior meet in January. In their last meet before the conference championships, they won both the women’s and men’s competition by an impressive point spread. They then hosted the New South Intercollegiate Swim Conference Championships where the men’s team won their second straight championship and the women’s team finished second.
Murray says that the success of the program brings well-deserved recognition to the DSU Swimming and Diving program.
“To be able to have a total of 6 national championships for Delta State athletics (makes) us very proud. (We) represent what the Statesmen and the Lady Statesmen are. I do feel like that is putting us on the map from an aquatic standpoint not just here locally throughout the state but throughout the country and throughout the world… It’s definitely attracting more athletes as they see the success the team is having and individual success.”