Lake Oswego grad Matt Voelzke revels in successful freshman baseball season
Matt Voelzke has experienced a lot of "new" in the past year.
He moved to a new city.
He began college at a new school.
He began playing on a new baseball team and he switched to a new position.
Apparently, "new" works very well for Voelzke.
At the end of his freshman season at George Fox University, Voelzke, a 2016 Lake Oswego High School graduate, was named to the all-Northwest Conference first team (he was the first freshman to earn All-NWC first team honors for Fox since 2006), and later, was chosen as D3Baseball.com West Region Rookie of the Year.
"I was actually on the golf course with (fellow Lake Oswego grad) Brock Anderson … and my coach texted me and said 'Congratulations,'" Voelzke said. "I was like, 'That's kind of weird,' so I waited a little bit and I texted him back and said, 'Congratulations for what?' He told me and sent me a link to the article about it. That was pretty awesome how I found out. It's an honor for sure."
Voelzke, a third baseman and pitcher in high school — he led the Lakers to a Three Rivers League championship in 2016 — earned his honors after a stellar campaign at Fox where he batted .288, with an on-base percentage of .372 and a slugging percentage of .424, led the team in games played (36) and doubles (9), as well as being second in hits (36) and RBIs (23).
But that was only part of Voelzke's contribution to the Bruins, who placed fifth in the NWC at 12-12 (18-20 overall). He was also a force to be reckoned with as Fox's closer, averaging 11.08 strikeouts per nine innings with 32 strikeouts in 26 innings pitched. He led the pitching staff in appearances (16), ERA (2.77) and saves (5). And those five saves were good enough to tie for fifth all-time in career saves and fourth all-time in single-season saves in the George Fox record book.
To accomplish all that as a freshman, Voelzke had to believe in himself, had to mature as a player and had to work — a lot.
"Obviously, I had to trust myself and know that I could compete at that level so that was the first part of my mental steps toward playing," he said. "Obviously, I wanted to start because that's everyone's goal as a freshman, going in and starting and making an impact right away. But when fall ball came around, I saw all the older guys and I thought 'I need to be like them if I want to compete and play in my freshman year.'"
Voelzke did crack the starting lineup, at third base, and made his first big splash in the second game of the season. Playing against LaVerne in Arizona, Voelzke went 2 for 4 at the plate and drove in four runs in his team's 15-7 loss to the Leopards, the key blow there a bases-clearing fourth-inning double.
While he made his presence felt early on, there was more excitement on the way for Voelzke, namely his move to shortstop in the Bruins' third game of the season.
"I played mostly third base in high school and I also pitched so it was definitely rough being thrown into that position," he said. "It definitely wasn't the easiest — it took a lot of hard work, staying after practices with my coaches, coming early to practice, working on my footwork. It was my footwork that was probably the biggest thing."
Over time, however, and with more and more of the hard work that characterized his freshman year, Voelzke grew to love his new defensive position. He finished with a .912 fielding percentage, led his team in assists (90) and errors (13), turned 17 double plays and made 45 putouts.
"It was definitely a rough transition at the beginning of the season, but as it went on, things started easing up for me," he said. "It was a blast. I loved it."
The key to Voelzke's success — to take in and assimilate the all the "new" of his freshman season — was his combination of hard work and confidence.
"After fall ball, I knew I could play and start on this team, and the next thing that started to develop was my confidence," he said. "So rather than playing with a freshman mentality … I needed to play with more confidence and be more mature out there. I think that's something that was part of the next step for me and that helped a lot."
He also learned, over time, how to better handle the mental part of the game. With pitchers throwing faster and batters hitting harder, it's easy, Voelzke said, to get overwhelmed by the speed of the game. But as he learned to control his reactions and thought processes, the game began to slow down and his successes began to stack up.
"Pitchers start throwing harder and the ball gets hit harder, they're more physical so when you come up here, you just have to slow your mind down," Voelzke said. "You have to slow the game down; you have to adapt to that speed of the game. As soon as you start playing the game fast in your head, that's when the game speeds up on you and takes control of you rather than you slowing the game down and taking control of the game."
Now, with his sophomore season looming in the fall, Voelzke knows just what he needs to do to create even more success.
"I'm just going to keep working my tail off," he said. "Yes, I had a great freshman season, but at the beginning of next season, that means nothing.
"Every part of my game still needs to be refined and worked on. I've taken steps at … getting better, but my hitting needs work still, my fielding still needs work. But if you work every single part of the day, if you do that, you can be a dang good ballplayer."