Thunderstorms and showers are the forecast for this weekend’s Midwest Conference Championships at Monmouth College, and that’s just another typical day for Lawrence University track and field coach Jason Fast and his Vikings.

In fact, it’s better than most days for the Vikings this spring.

“I’ve been telling our team the whole week that there shouldn’t be a set of weather conditions that will surprise us. We’ve seen it all,” Fast said with a laugh. “The only thing that would be surprising is if it’s a nice day.”

The Vikings head into this weekend’s championships looking to improve on last year’s ninth-place finishes.

“Going into it, everyone is really excited,” Fast said. “Last year at this time, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do. We’re looking at the men and women finishing higher up in the conference.”

The men are paced by a local athlete, sophomore Sam Stevens, who hails from nearby Suamico. Stevens ranks second in the conference in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, third in the 1,500 and eighth in the 800. Stevens also will run a leg on the 1,600 relay team.

“I expect him to score in all of those events,” Fast said of Stevens. “A large portion of our success will be determined on how well he can do because he could be scoring half to three-quarters of our team points. We need him to do well.”

Fast said he didn’t put that type of pressure on Stevens in 2010 because he was worn down after a year of competition. Fast didn’t hesitate in relying on Stevens this spring.

“Last year I didn’t wanted to put that on him because he was beaten down,” Fast said.

“This year it wasn’t even a question. He wanted to do all these events.

I was thinking the exact same thing, and it’s always nice when the coach and athlete are on the same page.”

Stevens’ running mate in the steeplechase will be senior David Zane. He ranks in the top eight in both the steeplechase and the 10,000. The Vikings also are looking for a strong performance in the 800 from freshman Dan Thoresen, who has been nipping at Stevens’ heels in that event.

“I’m hoping David ends his senior year on a positive note,” Fast said.

The 400 relay team got a recent boost with the additions of Tyler Mazur and Dyllan Eichhorst. They join Jon Bruehl and Sam Wagner to take a run at placing in some fast company.

“We’re looking for them to sneak in there and get us a couple of points,” Fast said.

Rose Tepper leads the women’s contingent and is looking to keep her season going beyond the conference championships. The sophomore from Mount Vernon, Iowa, is the defending champion in the high jump and led a 1-2 Lawrence sweep in that event in 2010.

Tepper missed the indoor championships because of a knee injury.

“It will help the team a lot to have Rose in there. She’s our leader and our leading point scorer,” Fast said. “The women’s high jump is the first event the first day. I expect her to start us off strong.”

Despite the knee injury during the indoor season, Tepper qualified for the NCAA Championships. She missed the meet after coming down with a case of food poisoning the day before she was scheduled to compete. Needless to say, Tepper would like to get back to nationals.

“With the rehab Rose had to do for her knee, it’s caused her to pick up some bad habits in her jumping technique. She has been working to iron those things out,” Fast said. “It seems like she has a lot of that taken care of.

Tepper’s best jump this spring is 5 feet, 4.25 inches, and Monmouth’s Emily Tysma is tops in the league at 5-5, which has her provisionally qualified for the NCAA meet.

“Rose’s first goal is to win,” Fast said. “There’s also another good jumper in our conference so she may have to qualify for nationals to win.”

The Vikings also have a pair of distance runners, Anne Sullivan and Anna Ratliff, who are looking to place in the 10,000. Freshman Erica Schmidt also has a shot to place in the discus.

Perish earns academic honor

Softball star Emily Perish has been chosen for the Capital One Academic All-District 5 team. Perish, a junior, was a third-team selection.

A pitcher/infielder, Perish has a 3.79 grade point average and is majoring in religious studies and government. Also an Academic All-Midwest Conference selection, Perish hit .354 on the season and posted a 6-6 record on the mound with a 4.17 earned run average.

Editor’s Note: Inside LU Athletics is a weekly notes package written by Lawrence University Sports Information Director Joe Vanden Acker. It will feature teams and individual players, recap weekly awards or highlights and take a look at what’s ahead for the Vikings.