The 2004 Big West schedule has reached its midway point, and after one contest with each league opponent, UCSB stands atop the league with a 7-2 record (along with Northridge and Pacific) and holds the 20th spot in the national rankings. This weekend the Gauchos take on Fullerton (3-6, 10-8 overall) on Friday and Riverside (1-8, 9-10) on Saturday in the Thunderdome. Both matches start at 7 p.m.

UCSB has never lost a match to either of these perennial Big West cellar dwellers, and has an all-time mark of 48-0 against Fullerton and a 13-0 record against Riverside. Santa Barbara is not overlooking this week’s opponents despite the fact that a rematch with Pacific, which handed USCB its first loss of the season, is on the horizon next weekend. Due to Hurricane Ivan and the cancellation of a trip to Florida in September, the Gauchos currently have the least games under their belt of any team in league.

“We are a young team and we are going to savor every opportunity to gain experience and prepare for the postseason,” senior libero Kristin Nelson said. “Despite what the records might say, no game is an automatic win for us; we learned that the hard way in Idaho.”

At the halfway point, the Big West Conference statistics are a USCB coach’s delight, as the Gauchos are leading the league in opponent hitting percentage, holding other teams to a meager .157 clip. As a team, UCSB also stands in a close second in both blocks and digs per game. The Gauchos are no slouches when it comes to putting a ball away either, as they are second in the Big West in kills per game and service aces. Individually, junior middle blocker Megan Blackshire has the second-best hitting percentage in the league at .419, while on the other side of the Gaucho rotation, sophomore middle blocker Olivia Waldowski is fourth, hitting .359. Nelson, the reigning First Team All-Big West libero, is second in league with 5.12 digs per game.