This is uncharted territory for the Lawrence University men’s tennis team.

All but the freshmen on this team are used to playing three days at the Midwest Conference Championships, set for Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison this weekend. For the first time since 2007, the Vikings failed to qualify for the four-team tournament that determines the top two finishers in the league.

That doesn’t mean that the Vikings don’t have a whole lot to play for when the singles and doubles are contested on Saturday and Sunday.

“We can still get third place in the conference,” Lawrence coach Kevin Girard said. “We can still end up in front of Carroll and St. Norbert so that keeps the guys pretty motivated.”

Lawrence finished third a season ago, and this was going to be a bit of rebuilding year after losing three starters, including top singles player and former league champion Ryan Dunn to graduation.

Dunn has been replaced by his younger brother, Jason, who moved up to No. 1 singles after playing No. 3 a season ago. Dunn put together a 9-9 singles record this season and is just starting to play his best tennis.

“Anytime you play No. 1 singles, you don’t ever get a day off,” Girard said. “Jay has been playing very well, very focused. He can beat anybody. He’s got tons of talent, and he’s starting to realize that as well.”

Girard said the key for Dunn will be his ground strokes if he wants to get a shot at Grinnell’s Juan Carlos Perez, the league’s defending champion.

“Jay’s return of service is probably the best in the conference,” Girard said. “If he’s hitting the ball well from the baseline, his opponent is in trouble. That’s what he’s been working on all season.”

The Vikings are also looking for big things from Caleb Ray, who won the consolation title at No. 2 singles last season. The sophomore from Austin, Texas, is 11-8 this season and is riding a five-match winning streak.

“This is the best I’ve seen Caleb play. Mentally, you’re not going to find anyone tougher on the court,” Girard said. “He’s super scrappy and super gritty. He pretty much ticks you off. He’s not fun to play against.”

Sophomore Max Zlevor moved from No. 5 singles to No. 3 this season and has managed only three wins, but Girard has a lot of confidence in the Racine native.

“Max has a ton of talent. He just has to get over that hump,” Girard said. “He has a ton of weapons and a ton of firepower. He just needs to string it together.”

Dunn wins POW

Dunn was named the MWC Player of the Week after going unbeaten in singles and doubles this past week. Dunn posted a 6-0 record, going 3-0 at No. 1 singles and 3-0 with Zlevor at No. 1 doubles. It was the first time in his career that he earned the weekly conference award.

Routing Ripon

The men’s tennis team beat Ripon 9-0 last Saturday, and that marked the third consecutive season the Vikings had shut out the Red Hawks. It’s also the first time in Lawrence history that the Vikings beat Ripon 9-0 three consecutive times.

Pechan takes second

Freshman golfer John Pechan finished second at the MWC Championships at Aldeen Golf Club this past weekend. Pechan carded rounds of 82, 75 and 78 on the par-72 layout to finish second by three shots. It was the highest finish for  Lawrence golfer since Appleton native Joe Loehnis tied for first in 2006 and lost a playoff for the title.

Fast company

The men’s 400-meter relay team took first place at the UW-Whitewater Invitational this past Saturday, marking the first time in recent memory that Lawrence has won that event at a large invitational. The time of 46.84 seconds was posted by Sam Wagner, Jon Bruehl, Cam Blegen and Jesse Peterson.

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.