If you are being hunted, the best thing you can do is remain one step ahead of the hunter.

This past weekend, the #22 UCSB women’s volleyball team (15-11, 13-3) had to do just that as it defeated Big West opponents Riverside and Cal State Fullerton in three games.

By adding two victories to its league record, coupled with Utah State upsetting second place Pacific, Santa Barbara moves into a tie for second place in the league with UOP. UCSB is two games ahead of Utah State in the critical battle for third in league.

Whoever finishes in third place will almost certainly receive an at-large berth in next month’s NCAA Tournament.

“What did this weekend mean for us? It meant two more league victories and that we are that much closer [to the NCAA Tournament],” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Our team is very cohesive right now. Everyone wants to play.”

On Friday night, the Gauchos downed the Highlanders (8-17, 1-15) in three games 30-18, 30-18, 30-23. Riverside could never find a rhythm and hit just .106 on the evening. Santa Barbara hit nearly .200 points better than its counterpart, and they also amassed five more total blocks.

The big story Friday was the play of freshman middle blocker Niki Carroll. Carroll had a career night, torching the Highlanders for a career-high 13 kills and a .800 hitting percentage. Carroll’s hitting percentage was the ninth highest in the impressive history of Gaucho women’s volleyball.

“Niki playing well takes pressure off of our outsides,” junior setter Brooke Niles said. “Teams never used to have to worry about her offensively, but now they have to worry about both of our middles and not just one.”

Saturday night was more of the same from UCSB, only instead of newcomers topping the statistical charts it was reliable veterans.

Sophomore outside hitter Erica Menzel and junior middle blocker Danielle Bauer have been the two best Gauchos all season as far as kills and digs are concerned, and Saturday was no different. The veterans tallied double-doubles while leading their team to a decisive 30-25, 30-22, 30-25 victory over the Titans (8-17, 4-13). Menzel had 12 digs and 11 kills, while Bauer added 13 and 15, respectively.

Although this past weekend’s victories were important, they do not begin to approach the significance of this next weekend’s season-ending homestand. Friday night, Santa Barbara will host second-place UOP. The Gauchos will be pitted against Big West foe Cal State Northridge. UCSB must win both matches if it hopes to control its own destiny into the playoffs.

“The UOP match is pretty important and it should be pretty exciting,” Menzel said. “We went five with them when we played them at their place, and the reason we lost was because we didn’t finish what we started. This weekend, we want to finish what we start.”