Jocelyn Gorman, a defensive specialist on the volleyball team, performs twice on game day. She obviously plays in the game, holding down the defensive effort against Marist’s opposition. But her first performance — yes, even before the game — comes when she sings the Star-Spangled Banner before every home match. She started the tradition as a high school freshman and brought her talent(s) from Hillsboro, Oregon to Poughkeepsie.
Gorman, a high school choir singer, first performed the national anthem on a team Senior Night during her freshman year and continued for every single home game. When she got to Marist, she told her head coach at the time, Lauren Amundson, that she sang the national anthem in high school. Gorman said Amundson “offered to see if I wanted to try it, and I did. I loved it, and everyone loved it. So, it just kept going. I haven’t stopped.”
The first time Gorman sang the national anthem in McCann Arena, “everyone’s jaw dropped,” senior outside hitter Megan Fergus recalls. “[The crowd] was in awe.” From Gorman’s perspective, “it was definitely nerve-racking. It’s just a bigger stage than in high school.”
Current head coach Sean Byron first heard her sing it this year. Before the team’s first match this season, which was also Byron’s first at the helm, the team told him that Gorman would sing the anthem. “All the kids said, ‘Jocelyn sings the anthem’, and I was like ‘okay,’” he said. “I didn’t really think about it.
“And then that morning, [defensive specialist] Courtney Kasperski came up and was like ‘Oh, by the way, Jocelyn’s really good.’ I was like, ‘at the anthem? Is she okay doing that?’ And she said, ‘oh yeah. You’ll see.’” He remembered the first time she sang this season: “It was awesome.”
The anthem isn’t just another song for Gorman, the stepdaughter of a retired police officer. “I do feel pretty connected to it in that it pays respects to him and the other people that have served our country.” She also takes pride in it because it’s something that makes the Marist volleyball program different.
“For the most part, I think it’s more just about the tradition of us having that to open our game and having something to take pride in before a game,” she said. “And it’s just something that makes our program a little more unique, that we don’t just play a recording like anyone else.”
Gorman’s vocals don’t just ring throughout McCann; on long road trips, she’s the highlight of the bus ride. In the middle of a six-hour road trip to Buffalo two years ago, the team was dying to entertain itself. They Googled fun things to do on car rides and discovered an activity that became a staple of road trips. One person puts on noise-canceling headphones and sings a song chosen by the team.
Every single time, Gorman sings last. Fergus said, “We’re all just screaming at the top of our lungs, and then once everyone has gone, we’re like ‘Okay, Joc, now you can go’ because she has to be the last one because we’re like ‘who can top that?’”
Gorman’s singing was the second musical talent that she acquired. “Before I started singing, I actually started playing the piano at a pretty young age,” she said. “I think I was in second grade. When I was little, I wanted to be just like Alicia Keys. That was my little thing, so I was like ‘I’m gonna start singing.’”
She tried singing and playing the piano for fun until she realized that she was a better singer than piano player. “So [my family and I] dropped piano lessons and I kept singing. I tried voice lessons, but I wasn’t super into it; I kinda just liked doing it for myself.” Gorman loves to sing Keys’s “If I Ain’t Got You” the most — it’s her go-to song, and the first one Fergus ever heard her sing.
During Gorman’s recruiting visit to Marist, she told the team that she was a singer in high school. They asked her to sing, but she wouldn’t budge. Gorman ended up choosing Marist, and she finally sang for them at a preseason bonding activity. Fergus, who has a personal obsession with great singers, was starstruck. “I was just in absolute awe,” she said.
Yet, despite her incredible singing talent, Gorman is quite modest about it. She shrugged and said “yeah, I guess so” when I asked her to confirm that she’s the best singer on the team. Byron and Fergus would tell you no one comes close to her, but Gorman suggested middle blocker Chidera Udeh is the second-best singer on the team. Gorman laughingly said she would definitely rank Fergus “near the bottom. She’s so bad.” Still, Gorman admires how much fun she has.
The playful banter shows how close Gorman and Fergus have become. Gorman recalls a time in spring of her freshman year when she, Fergus, and then-junior Taylor Van Der Biezen gravitated towards each other. “Our spring – under our old coach, at least – used to be really tough on us and we had to rely on each other,” she said. “Me, Megan, and Taylor all had a very similar mindset about volleyball and our work ethic and our effort in the classroom. We were all similar-minded people, so drifted towards each other that way.”
After three years together, Fergus and Gorman are inseparable. “She’s easily my best friend,” Fergus said. “She is just such an amazing person: she’s always happy, always go-lucky, puts the team before herself.” The feeling is mutual with Gorman; “100% she’s my best friend,” she said.
Gorman modeled her work ethic after the older players. As she has progressed through her collegiate career, her teammates noticed what great leadership and hard work she displayed. “She’s certainly one of the hardest workers that we got,” Byron said. “She’s a team-first kind of kid.”
Unfortunately for the team, Gorman didn’t get to help out on the court that much this past season. She suffered a broken hand in the preseason which limited her 2019 season to just two games. “She was doing absolutely amazing in preseason,” Fergus said. “We all were blown away by how much she had improved since last year and over the summer. So, we were looking forward to what she was going to be able to during the season.”
It didn’t stop Gorman from being a top-notch teammate. “Even when her hand was broken, she was still the first one to come into the gym; always cheering, always super engaged in the game and in practice,” Fergus said. “She definitely did as much as she could to stay engaged and up with our trainings.”
Gorman strives to be more than just a good teammate, though. When she first arrived at Marist she felt like the vibe and relationships between coaches and players were “so business. I remember coming in that that was something I wanted to change about the culture and make it more like a family environment.”
She and Fergus felt determined to create a friendlier team culture, which was another factor that drove them close together. Gorman said this desire “comes from the volleyball that I played on in high school, T.E.A.M. Hiki No. It was a Hawaiian based club and it was huge on culture and making sure we built traditions and had things to rely on outside of volleyball… it’s so much more than volleyball.” Byron can attest to that; he added that Gorman would “do anything for her teammates” and that her positivity is felt throughout the team, but beyond volleyball as well.
“We’re trying to honor a different professor every week at every home match,” he said. “I’ve seen [Gorman’s professor] three times since that weekend [she was honored] and she’s always like, ‘Oh, we love having Jocelyn in class. She’s awesome. She does great in the lab. She does great for me.’ Clearly, she has that same impact across campus that she does for us.”
Gorman’s positivity and leadership have done wonders for the volleyball team. If not for her, the team might not have the vibe of a family. Her singing only adds to the tune that she worked for years to set. Byron said, “The more kids you can have like Jocelyn, the better your team’s going to be.”
Edited by Will Bjarnar