For a team still learning how to win and play together, two home matches against opponents the Gauchos have not lost to in 55 all-time matches would seem to be the perfect solution.

The recent performances of UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton, however, indicates that these two matches will be among the more hard-fought in the programs’ collective history.

The Highlanders (6-6, 1-1 in the Big West) knocked off Big West powerhouse Long Beach State last weekend and have matched the six wins they earned last year. They have dug out almost 18 balls per game to lead the Big West and also feature the best percentage hitter in the conference in senior middle blocker Rosanna Parizek.

“They have a great team,” Gaucho senior outside hitter Erica Menzel said. “We can’t expect to just come out and beat them in three games like we have in the past.”

UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory is not ignoring the Gauchos’ lack of experience on the court, and she knows that the Highlanders will not overlook that fact, either.

“When they look and see that this is not a Santa Barbara team that has as many weapons, they will feel confident,” Gregory said. “Riverside is one of the best defensive teams around. We will have to grovel and play longer points to stay in this game.”

The Gauchos (5-4, 1-0 in the Big West) have struggled to get the wheels moving this season but trail only Riverside in digs per game in the Big West rankings.

Saturday’s match against the Titans (6-7, 0-2 in the Big West) will be no walk in the park either, even though the Gauchos have beaten them 45 straight times. Fullerton has already eclipsed last year’s mark of four total wins and is the only team below .500 in the competitive Big West, so it will not want to waste a chance to face an unstable Gaucho team.

“Fullerton is much improved,” Gregory said. “They will not be easy to beat, and we are not in a position to overlook anyone.”

First serve is set for 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday at the Thunderdome.

The Gauchos will play their first home games since hosting Regionals for the 2002 NCAA Tournament last December.