This is a big week for the Lawrence University volleyball team.

With three Midwest Conference matches in five days, the next week will have a huge influence on whether the Vikings earn a berth in the four-team MWC Tournament.

“We have three matches in five days, and those three matches are going to have a significant bearing on whether we finish in the top four or not,” Lawrence coach Matt Schoultz said. “There’s a lot on those three matches.”

Lawrence enters this critical stretch of play with an 8-13 mark and a 3-2 record in the league. The Vikings have won three of their last four conference matches, with the only loss coming to No. 22 Cornell College, which is unbeaten at 6-0.

The Vikings host Lake Forest College (3-2 MWC) on Friday and then host Beloit College (1-3 MWC) on Saturday. Lawrence then entertains St. Norbert College (2-2 MWC) next Tuesday.

“They’re all winnable matches for us, but they are not going to be easy. It seems like anyone can beat anyone on any given night this year, with the exception of Cornell,” Schoultz said.

“We’re playing pretty well right now. The girls have some good confidence built up. Our tough nonconference schedule is beginning to pay dividends right now. It definitely prepared us for conference play.”

Lawrence put itself in this position by shutting out both Ripon College and Illinois College last week, and senior setter Diane McLeod was named the MWC Offensive Player of the Week. For the week, McLeod averaged 12.5 assists per set and helped the Vikings hit .281 as a team.

All that came as part of a difficult personal week for McLeod, who was grieving after the loss of her grandfather, who was an ardent Lawrence fan.

“She really surprised me. She was going through a lot with grandfather,” Schoultz said of McLeod. “I said to her after the Ripon match that her grandfather would have been proud.”

With McLeod directing the attack, Lawrence the Vikings have hit .178 as a team over the last five matches, as opposed to .128 over the first 16. Lawrence also continues to send a diverse attack at opponents with hitters Terese Swords, Megan Conley, Kayla Storm, Andrea Wilkinson and Betsy Sorensen giving the Vikings multiple options.

“We’ve had different people step up in different matches with kills,” Schoultz said. “It’s a lot harder to defend a team that can attack you in a lot of different ways. Over the past few weeks, we’ve had strong showings from different players in different matches.”

The defense has also progressively improved during the season. Opponents are hitting just .132 against Lawrence in the last five matches. The ringleader of the defensive effort is all-conference libero Kathleen Rowland.

“She’s a rock back there,” Schoultz said of Rowland. “She saves us a lot. Just the defensive mindset she brings to our team. The defense is a big part of why we are being successful.”

Couple the improving offense with the solid defense, and it gives the Vikings an opportunity to reach the league tournament.

“That’s definitely the goal,” Schoultz said of reaching the MWC Tournament. “We set that early in our season as one of the goals we want to achieve.”

Vikings at MWC meet

The Lawrence women’s tennis team heads to the MWC Championships this weekend in Madison.

Since Lawrence missed out on playing in the four-team tournament on Friday, the best the Vikings can finish is fifth place. Lawrence, which took seventh last season, is looking for its first singles or doubles title since 2011 when the Vikings won three titles.

The top records on the team belong to Hannah Geoffrey, who went 8-6 at No. 2 singles, and Melissa Heeren, who was 9-7 while playing anywhere from No. 4 to No. 6.

The top doubles mark on the squad belongs to Polly Dalton and Gayatri Malhotra, who were 8-7 at No. 2. Geoffrey and Ali Heiring were next with a 7-9 mark at No. 1.

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.