It’s official, the #18 UCSB women’s volleyball team (21-3 overall, 15-2 in the Big West) is the three-time Big West Conference champion and has assured itself an automatic bid in the 64-team field of the NCAA Tournament.

Tonight’s Big West finale against central coast rival Cal Poly (5-21, 3-14 Big West) at 7 p.m. in San Louis Obispo is far from a throwaway match.

“We still have a lot of room for improvement, before we are ready for the tournament” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said.

Scheduling looks to be in the Gaucho’s favor if working through team shortcomings is on tap tonight. Improving the left-side defense and increasing the variety of attacks out of the middle are the two main holes in the Gaucho’s game that Gregory hopes to patch this week before a well-deserved Thanksgiving break.

The need for more than one look from the middle will be essential to opening up the entire offense come tournament time. When a defending middle blocker is able to anticipate where the hitting middle is going to attack, it makes the task of blocking much easier – not only for blocking in the middle, but also for making moves to the right or left. This season, UCSB’s middles have been hitting from primarily just two areas: quick sets directly in front of or behind the setter or a slide, which is also behind the setter a few feet between the middle and right side. This week Gregory wants to get an efficient “B” or “3” set in the arsenal. This is a quick-shoot set in front of the setter about eight feet down the net. By expanding the possible area of attack, the opposing middle blocker is kept guessing and off balance, making it easier for Gaucho setters freshman Ashley Dutro and senior Mari Bell to get their hitters more one-on-one opportunities.

Maintaining success against strong competitors that are sure to come into the tournament with an array of attacks from the middle is a must if the Gauchos hope to make it past the round 32.

The national volleyball community has finally acknowledged what the Gaucho Locos have known for four years: Kristin Nelson is the best libero in the nation. After scooping 69 digs this weekend and setting the career all-time digs mark in UCSB history with a total of 1,651, Nelson was named the Sports Imports/AVCA Division I National Player of the Week. She is the first libero in the history of the award to receive the honor and the first Gaucho to garner the award since 1999. History could be rewritten tonight again as she is just 32 digs away from eclipsing a 20-year-old Big West Conference record. She is also currently ranked fourth in the nation with 6.33 digs per game.