The first-place UCSB women’s volleyball team (14-3, 9-2 in the Big West) will take its pillowcases from Northridge to Stockton this weekend in hopes of returning home on Halloween with the heaviest bag of candy in the conference. #20 UCSB will face a pair of second-place foes in CSUN (13-6, 8-3 in the Big West) tonight at 7 and UOP (11-7, 8-3 in the Big West) Saturday evening at the same time.

Santa Barbara rolls into the Northridge game on the heels of a four-match winning streak, dropping just one game to Long Beach State along the way. The Thunderdome was host to an absolute massacre of Fullerton and Riverside last week, and the Gauchos used the two-game series to pull into first place alone and to pad their stats.

UCSB embarrassed its opposition at the net, out-blocking both teams 22 to 6, and sophomore middle blocker Olivia Waldowski loomed large with 13 blocks, including five block solos against the Highlanders. Perhaps the most amazing part of the Gauchos’ game was their serving. Santa Barbara earned 15 service aces against just four errors. Sophomore outside hitter Jamie Garbisch had six serves that were too hot to handle.

“Our serving was just that good, and that’s the reason why we were blocking so well,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory. “We take teams out of their rhythm, and there are not many teams that are good when they’re out of system.”

Serving and blocking were targeted areas for improvement early in the season, but the Gauchos seem to have the situation under control. They are the top serving team in the conference and are second to the Long Beach State 49ers in blocking.

The Matadors’ heads are spinning after seeing a game five 8-0 lead against Irvine wither away into a devastating loss despite senior outside hitter Jen Ryan’s 28 kills. It proved to be an average night for Ryan, whose 5.11 kills per game place her third in the league. The Matadors did win their previous six games, however, and Gregory noted Northridge’s 5-1 record in five-game matches.

UCSB disposed of CSUN in the minimum three frames earlier this month and held Ryan and fellow heavy-hitter senior Heather Fobian to single-digit put aways and a barely positive attacking percentage. Last October, however, UCSB visited the Matadome and lost a four-gamer, and the Gauchos experienced for themselves how unpleasant it is to play in the cramped facility.

“It’s a dingy little gym,” Gregory said disgustedly. “It’s the lights or something, but it’s just like playing in a high school gym.”

Excuses aside, this is the biggest weekend of the season for women’s volleyball, and the team is hot and more than ready to compete.