Heading into this weekend’s showdowns in the Southland, the #19 UCSB women’s volleyball team (19-3 overal1, 3-2 Big West Conference) is in control of its own playoff destiny, as a win in any of its final three league matches will assure it a third-straight Big West title as well as an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.

On Friday, UCSB will travel to the Pyramid in Long Beach to take on the 49ers (18-4,10-4 Big West). Beyond what the Gaucho Locos believe is a superior scholastic ability, the Gauchos will bring with them a nine-match winning streak, as well as a streak of four consecutive wins over the rival state school.

“I like this situation for us,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “This is a good trip to have near the end of the year to prepare us for the playoffs.”

This match is never an easy affair, as the 49er faithful are sure to fill the Pyramid, making an already daunting place to play even tougher. The Long Beach lineup, which was a bit banged up during its previous meeting this year, seems to now be at full strength and has ripped through its last four opponents. The 49ers are still in the hunt for the Big West crown, and beyond the rivalry and league race, it would be beneficial for Long Beach to get a win over a ranked opponent with NCAA selection time just around the corner.

For the Gaucho Locos who are unable to make the trek down the 405, Danny MacLeith of KCSB 91.9 FM (webcast www.kcsb.org) will be courtside to bring all the action starting at 7 p.m.

On Saturday, UCSB visits the O.C. to take on Irvine (16-7, 9-5 Big West). This match should also be a tightly contested affair, as Saturday is Irvine’s Senior Night. Irvine’s four graduating seniors – Sami Cash, Ashlie Hain, Dana Kurzbard and Kelly Wing – are the heart and soul of this Anteater squad, and most have been contributing to the team for all four years.

“We know Irvine is going to be fired up, and we are going to be ready for Wing to get about a hundred swings,” Gregory said.

Irvine is also not completely out of the NCAA picture, and it surely knows that a win over UCSB will help its chances.

History looks like it will be rewritten on Saturday; UCSB senior libero Kristin Nelson should become UCSB’s all-time leader in career digs and is currently only 38 scoops away from doing so. This already impressive feat is even more remarkable since Nelson played three of her four seasons with rally scoring and thus fewer opportunities to compile stats.