This weekend the UCSB women’s volleyball team, ranked No. 15 nationally by USA Today and No.12 by Volleyball Magazine, takes its act back on the road to battle Northridge on Saturday night at 7.

After playing their first nine matches on the road the Gauchos enjoyed a measly two-game homestand before hitting the road again last night against Pacific. Santa Barbara realizes that since Big West Conference play has begun, it will be at the mercy of a grueling schedule.

“Of course we would rather be playing at home in front of our friends. We know we have a job to do and a Big West title to defend. Playing road games is just something we have to do” senior outside hitter Francina Edmonds said.

If last weekend was any indication of how the Gauchos will be playing from now on, the Matadors should have plenty to worry about. As a team the Santa Barbara offense hit at a very efficient .364 attack percentage and featured six individuals turning in double-digit kill performances during last weekend’s two games.

The orchestrator of the Santa Barbara offense is setter Mari Bell. Over the weekend, the junior from Manhattan Beach posted 78 assists and six kills. Bell is competing in her first season as a starter and has handled the demands, pressures and expectations very well. The previous two Santa Barbara setters – Brooke Niles and Brooke Rundle – were both All-Americans and probably two of the best setters in UCSB history.

“I realize there are expectations but that comes with the territory and that is why I came to Santa Barbara,” Bell said. “We have a great program and I wanted to be in a position to play for a national title.”

Like the rest of the squad, Bell has seen her ups and downs this season. But on September 12 in a game against American University, Bell set a school-record, under the rally-scoring format, for assists with 63.

“I think there were definitely some familiarity issues early on. We have a lot of new faces on this team and we just needed to figure out how to play together. After this weekend I feel like we took some major steps towards were we need to be,” Bell said.

The Matadors (5-6, 1-3 in the Big West) have faired as well as the Gauchos in Big West competition, losing three of their last four matches most recently to Long Beach and Irvine. CSUN is currently eighth but its two main offensive weapons this season have been the senior tandem of Jennifer Fopma (4.00 kills per game) and Unn Kvendseth (3.34 kills per game).