Vikings set for third straight trip to MWC Tournament

Bill Schuman-Kline leads Lawrence into the Midwest Conference Tournament this weekend.
Bill Schuman-Kline leads Lawrence into the Midwest Conference Tournament this weekend.

APPLETON, Wis. -- Round 2 coming up.

When the Lawrence University men's tennis team plays in the Midwest Conference Tournament on Friday at Nielsen Tennis Stadium in Madison, Wis., it will be a rematch from a week ago, and the Vikings are hoping for a different outcome.

Lawrence faces off against Lake Forest College in one semifinal, and Grinnell College takes on Monmouth College in the other semifinal. The winners meet with a berth in the NCAA Division III Championships on the line. Lawrence lost to the Foresters 7-2 just this past Saturday.

"When we played (Lake Forest), it was our first match outside since Florida, and we just did not play well under those conditions," Lawrence coach Steve Francour said. "Not making excuses, but we didn't play well. We'll be playing inside on a neutral surface, and that will be favorable for us."

The return to Nielsen Tennis Stadium will be helpful for the Vikings, but Francour said another key will be getting off to a quality start in both doubles (the three doubles matches are contested first) and singles.

"We started poorly in doubles and singles, and we've made it a point of emphaiss to stay close early," Francour said. "We can't let them get away from us. If we can do that, I think we can play with them."

This is Lawrence's third consecutive trip to the MWC Tournament, and Francour wants to see his team advance and play for the title.

"With this group of talented players we have, we expect to make the tournament," Francour said. "Our goal now is to make the finals. We should get (to the tournament), but our goal is to progress beyond being happy to be there."

Lawrence compiled a 12-8 overall mark and finished third in the conference with a 6-2 record. The Vikings have just one senior, top singles player Bill Schuman-Kline, and boast a lineup dominated by sophomores and freshmen.

The top singles records on the team belong to rookie Matt Chan, the starter at No. 6, with a 10-6 mark, and Cade Francour, the coach's son, who is 12-9 at No. 4. Sophomore Connor Maloney at No. 2 is 9-8 and sophomore Aidan Delgado at No. 3 is 9-10. Rookie Evan Oriel at No. 5 is also 9-10.  

"My upperclassmen have all gotten better and we've had some freshmen, Matt Chan and Evan Oriel, have stepped in and performed at a very high level," Francour said. "That was unecpxected. I knew they would be solid, but I didn't know they would play as well as they have. Everyone has a great attitude as well. They understand what they need to do to get better and they work hard. It's been a great group to be around."

After the team tournament is completed on Friday, play shifts to the battle for singles and doubles championships over the weekend. Francour likes his team's chances to playing for a title in several spots this weekend.

"One doubles, with Bill and Connor, they have a tough first round," Francour said. "If they can get past the first round, they can play with anybody. They just need to get hot."

Schuman-Kline and Maloney have a 9-5 record this season at No. 1 doubles.

Lawrence also enters singles play with two No. 2 seeds. Francour is seeded second at No. 4, and Chan is the second seed at No. 6. Chan enters the weekend on a six-match win streak, and Francour has won six of his last seven.

The other factor is the home-court advantage for Maloney and Oriel, both Madison natives. Maloney was a standout at Edgewood High School, and Oriel starred at Madison West.

"We have two guys, Connor and Evan, that have played a lot at Nielsen and have had a lot of success there," Francour said. "You get comfortable with your surroundings and you feel like you can do good things."