The season, started so long ago last fall, boils down to the next five days for the Lawrence University men’s tennis team.

The Vikings have three Midwest Conference North Division matches in the next five days and that will determine if Lawrence gets to play for the league championship.

“We’ve got a lot of experience, and we are playing really well,” Lawrence coach Kevin Girard said. “We have to take it day-by-day, step-by-step. We want to win the North and win the whole thing. That’s the idea.”

Lawrence is currently 1-0 in the North Division (10-6 overall), and the top two teams from each division advance to the MWC Tournament. Those four teams then face off for the conference title. Lawrence is itching to get back into the tournament after just missing it the past two seasons.

“The team mantra or attitude is intensity and confidence,” Girard said. “Those are the key words we’ve been using. We instill that attitude for every single practice and every single match.”

Lawrence faces long-time rival Ripon College on Wednesday evening before traveling to Lake Forest College for another evening match on Friday. The Vikings then wrap up division play on Sunday against St. Norbert College, which is currently unbeaten in league play at 2-0, and the Green Knights have won four consecutive matches.

“St. Norbert, they always bring it against us,” Girard said. “They are a tough team. They have been playing really well.”

The Vikings bring a veteran presence to this quest to reach the conference tournament with seniors Cooper Smith, Jason Dunn and Max Zlevor playing Nos. 1-3 singles, respectively.

“It’s all about senior leadership, in my opinon,” Girard said. “They do a great job of keeping everyone in check but also letting the younger guys know when it’s time to get down to business. It’s what competition is all about.”

The rest of the lineup features sophomore Craig Sherwood, who was the MWC Player of the Week, at No. 4 singles, freshman Brian DeCorte at No. 5 and sophomore Jeremy Andereck at No. 6.

Lawrence’s leadership and talent was tested when the Vikings played five matches during spring break in Orlando, Fla., against some great competition. Girard believes the experience of those matches will now pay off. 

“It was basically to get us battle-tested for conference (play),” Girard said of the matches in Florida. “(The conference matches) are the matches that are the most important. We took some lumps down there, but it was getting us ready and knowing what you have to do to win a very important tennis match.”

Pro debut

Senior Phil Bushbacher made his professional hockey debut for the Louisana Ice Gators of the Southern Professional Hockey League earlier this month.

Bushbacher, a forward, played for the Ice Gators in their semifinal playoff series against the Huntsville Havoc.

Bushbacher is the ninth Lawrence player to play in the pro ranks in recent seasons. Matt Hughes, Jameson Raymond and Ben DiMarco all signed pro contracts after the 2011-12 season.

Schacht gets USTA honor

Former Lawrence tennis player Eric Schacht was recently honored by the United States Tennis Association. Schacht, who graduated in 1990 and played in the NCAA Division III Championships for Lawrence, won the Stanley Malless Award.

Now living in Champaign, Ill., Schacht won the award given to a volunteer for distinguished service in his or her district. Schacht led the formation of the Mahomet Community Tennis Association in 2009, and it has been a magnet for junior high and high school girls looking to play the game.

Schacht also has coached two girls’ high school teams and has been a volunteer women’s coach at the University of Illinois.

Pino wins golf award

Lawrence golf standout Rudi Pino was named the MWC Player of the Week after grabbed fourth place at the Marian Invitational. A freshman from Vancouver, Wash., Pino carded his collegiate-low round, a 4-under par 68, in the tournament’s first round at Morningstar Golfers Club in Waukesha, Wis. Pino followed that with a 75 for a 36-hole total of 143 to lead Lawrence to sixth place in the team standings.

Editor’s Note: Inside LU Athletics is a notes package written by Lawrence University Director of Athletic Media Relations 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.