In American University's basketball season-opening game against St. John's, Ray Voelkel made his first shot and barely missed his second.

Voelkel tipped in his own missed layup and has not shot a blank since. The 6-foot-5 substitute forward has made 20 consecutive field goals in seven games and could break the NCAA Division I mark of 23 tonight at 8 o'clock against St. Mary's (Md.) at Fort Myer.

Voelkel's string already has tied him with former Notre Dame center John Shumate for the second longest in history. Randy Morgan, a center-forward for Samford (Ala.), established the record in 1974.

Voelkel has gotten all his field goals from either directly underneath the basket or on five-to six-foot jumpers.Several of his buckets have come from offensive rebounds.

"Those are the normal shots for me," said Voelkel, a senior physical education major from the Bronx, N.Y. "I'm not the type to shoot from 20 feet. The coach doesn't want me taking long shots."

Voelkel said he first started thinking about the streak after the Eagles beat Trenton Staet. That was his best game of the season, as he made all seven shots to stretch his string to 16.

"I didn't realize they even kept such a record," said Voelkel. "I was out there to score points."

Playing defense, scoring inside and getting offensive rebounds is what Voelkel said he is depended on to do. He is the team's third leading scorer (7.9 point average), averages 5.1 rebounds and is tied for sixth in average minutes played at 17.

But Voelkel was nearly a sure bet not to be around following his sophomore year.

"I came here a big star, but I didn't catch much light my first two seasons," explained Voelkel, who averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds in his senior year at Cardinal Spellman.

"I played maybe five minutes total in each of my first two years," he continued. "I tried to transfer after the second year but the schools where I inquired said I would have to pay tuition the first year and then, if I did okay on the court, they would give me a scholarship my senior year."

Voelkel returned to start a few games his junior year but admitted he still wasn't completely happy.

"I set goals which I didn't reach. I got along fine at American in all other phases, but basketball was really bumming me out."

Voelkel, playing guard last season, averaged three points while shooting 44.6 percent. He was switched to forward this season because of the Eagles' lack of size.

So now the high school star whose light has dimmed considerably as a collegian is getting a shot at basketball immortality and he's going to make the most of it.

Eagle Coach Gary Williams said he has not given Voelkel, special orders on what shots to take.

That was evident near the end of the first half against Rider, when Voelkel was 17 shots into the streak. The forward had the ball just short of halfcourt with three seconds left in the first half and heard Williams screaming at him to shoot it.

"I passed it to Boo Bowers, instead," said Voelkel, who still appears incredulous at the thought of taking a 50-footer. "I don't think he got the shot off before the buzzer, but we were leading by 25 at the time, anyway."

"The rest of the team appreciates the sacrifices Ray makes for them-doing the dirty work without getting the publicity," waid Williams. "They're all rooting for him."

Bowers reflected that statement during a recent workout, when he said to Voelkel, "If you shoot it and I know it's not going in, I'll jump up and goaltend."