Auburn University’s men’s basketball team found out they were headed to Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the first Final Four appearance in school history. And when Morgan Kull was celebrating the victory at Toomer’s, she found out she was headed to the Twin Cities, too.
For the past couple years, the NCAA asked a student-athlete from each of the four schools represented in the Final Four to sing the national anthem before the games on Saturday, and Kull, a volleyball player, was the Auburn student-athlete the NCAA chose.
Ahead of the Elite Eight matchup against Kentucky, the NCAA reached out to the potential schools. One of Kull’s assistant coaches knew that she had sung in the past, so she encouraged her to send in an application. Kull didn’t have a lot of faith, but she said why not.
“We made it to the Final Four, and I was in Toomer’s Corner and my assistant coach texted me and she was like, ‘I think you’re going to be singing the national anthem,’” Kull said. “And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ It was kind of a random opportunity, but it was funny.”
Although many students decided to go to the game, actually making the trek up to Minnesota was never on Kull’s radar.
“I like being able to watch it at Auburn just because when we win, we get to go downtown and roll Toomer’s and stuff, but I wasn’t about to pass up an opportunity to go to Minneapolis,” Kull said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘Yup, I’ll go.’”
Growing up with a band director as a father, Kull was always musically inclined. She was in choir at a young age, all the way through high school. She was in the band and took voice lessons for a few years as well.
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Although her father was very influential, he and Kull have differing opinions on singing.
“He’s not a huge fan of singing,” she said. “He’s like, ‘Singing? The real musicians are the band people.’ And I’m like, ‘Whatever, dad.’ He likes that I was in choir and stuff, but he’s more of a band dude.”
Kull sang the national anthem for some of her school’s basketball games, so the song wasn’t unfamiliar, but that doesn’t mean she’s always been perfect.
“I didn’t want to tell people before the national anthem happened because I was afraid they were going to freak out, but I actually messed up one of the words when I sang it in high school,” Kull said with a laugh. “But I haven’t since.”
Before the invite, Kull hadn’t sang the national anthem since high school, and the four student-athletes from each school met for the first time the day before the games.
The leader of the group said they were going to do a folk version of the song, so she didn’t practice much during the week leading up to the game.
“I didn’t really practice during the week, I just ran over the words a couple times every day because that was the biggest thing for me,” she joked.
The group got together on Friday to figure out the arrangement, playing around with harmonies and tunes. They settled on their own rendition of the song. They practiced in the stadium a few times, and everything went according to plan — no misplaced words.
With one of the student-athletes playing the guitar, their “campfire version of the national anthem” was somewhat controversial on social media.
“They were like, ‘What are these 20-year-olds doing, changing our national anthem?’” Kull said.
But she just thought it was funny.
“It wasn’t as bold as Fergie’s,” Kull said. “We still stuck to it more than her.”
Although she was singing in front of nearly 70,000 and millions more at home, Kull was more excited than nervous.
“The thing is, I can’t really comprehend that number at all, so I couldn’t even get nervous about it because I just didn’t understand,” Kull said.
She said it helped a lot that she’s gotten accustomed to performing in front of people in her own games, and in some ways, it was easier. She said in games, you don’t know what’s going to happen, but for a performance like that, you practice and know exactly what is going to happen.
Kull has never really considered singing as a career; it’s just something she’s always enjoyed for fun. With volleyball, it’s difficult to keep it up because her voice is usually gone during the season, but she is hoping she’ll be able to take a music class in the spring after her senior year.
The NCAA had a Minneapolis Air Force sergeant sing for the national title game, so Kull would not have had another opportunity if Auburn had won, but either way, she said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
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