Voss breaks out in a big way
As DePaul junior shortstop Tara Voss jogged around the bases Sunday following her third home run in two days, she took a moment to enjoy what she had done.
"I told myself, 'Yes, finally, this is what I needed,'" Voss said. "'This feels better than it did before.'"
"Before" was a stretch of growing anger and frustration; Voss struggled at the plate for a good part of April.
Earlier in the season, she was one of the Blue Demons' most unstoppable hitters. A hot start had DePaul coach Eugene Lenti moving her from the seventh spot in the order to leadoff, then to the RBI-producing third spot. But midway through April, she appeared to have hit her offensive peak. She had been mired in a slump since.
Voss had tried every imaginable way to break out of it. She moved herself around the box. She guessed at what pitch was coming. Nothing worked, and it was getting to her.
"Once you start struggling, you get down on yourself," Voss said. "I try after games to let it go, but sometimes it starts to bother me, and I was thinking of ways to improve. I guess when I was batting third I was putting more pressure on myself. I was expected to do well and drive in runs."
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Lenti could see that Voss was trying to lead the team by herself. He knew something had to be done. His solution was to drop her back to the seventh spot during last weekend's three-game series with Georgetown.
"I talked to her about it and told her, 'Just let it happen and have fun,'" said Lenti, whose team is in first place in the Big East. "There's no one on this team that has to carry the whole load. I've changed our lineup consistently this season. There's always a reason behind our madness. What's the difference? She knows there's no difference. We're just helping her relax. She knows it's in her head."
Voss' first plate appearance didn't go well in the seventh spot. She hit a soft shot to the shortstop and was retired. She made up for it in her next at-bat, launching a shot over the left-field fence for her first home run since March 27.
From there, Voss was back to being a pitcher's nightmare.
"Once I hit a home run, I felt a lot more confidence in myself, and it carried over to the rest of my at-bats," said Voss, who is hitting .323 with 28 RBIs and a team-leading eight home runs. "Once I was able to build my confidence back up, I tried to remember that feeling when I had success. I had a totally different outlook than when I was struggling."
She singled in her final at-bat in Game 1 of the series. In Game 2, she drove in three runs with a homer to left-center field and an RBI single. On Sunday, she added two more hits, including another home run.
In the three games, she was 6-for-8 with three home runs, seven RBIs and five runs. The numbers were good enough for her to be named Big East Player of the Week and a finalist for the National Fastpitch Coaches Association's National Player of the Week.
"It's just easy," Lenti said. "It was about her getting good pitches to hit, and she did that well. Tara's not a big kid, but she's a pretty strong kid. That's it. There's no rocket science. With every at-bat, you could see it was happening for her."
While Voss did take that moment after her third home run to enjoy her weekend, she hasn't thought about it much otherwise. She knows all too well what can happen if she starts thinking too much.
"I try to stay in my level," she said. "I don't want to have too much confidence or get a big head because I did better. I try not to worry about those things and keep it simple."
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.