If the first half of conference play is any indicator of how the season will pan out, the UCSB women’s volleyball team (11-7 overall, 6-1 in the Big West) only has one roadblock on its way to postseason play: Cal Poly.

The third place Mustangs (13-4, 6-2 Big West) are the only Big West team that’s put a number in Santa Barbara’s loss column.

But in reality, these two aren’t the same teams that faced each other back in September.

“We were at our lowest point when we played [Cal Poly],” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “Now we’re playing better but so are they. They’ve been winning and they’re only half a game ahead of us…. It’s tough because they’re fighting for spot in NCAA [playoffs] and we’re definitely a better team than when we played them before. We still have to come ready to play.”

For starters, the Gauchos were away from the friendly confines of the Thunderdome and the 11-game streak they’ve posted there.

But quite possibly the key factor in UCSB’s season-opening loss to Cal Poly was the unpredictable roster the Gauchos were dealing with. At this point, Santa Barbara finally began using junior Emily Hendrickson as its new libero and freshman Lauren McLaughlin as the newest Gaucho outside hitter.

“It’s like night and day between us playing with confidence and not playing confident,” junior outside hitter Janine Sandell said. “We didn’t have a set line up in the beginning and no one really knew who was going to play what each night. Now Lauren knows where she’s playing, and we all are really comfortable on court. So it just goes to show that it’s a much faster game at this level.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Sandell has been named Player of the Week twice in October, a month in which the Gauchos have exploded with a 7-0 winning streak.

Sandell averages a conference-high 5.06 kills per game, placing her among the top 20 in the nation. This year, she has posted eight of her 20 career double-doubles, racking up kills in the double digits in all 18 matches of the season.

“When we’re doing what we know how to do, we can do some pretty impressive things,” Sandell said. “I’m hoping we relax, because we’re good. We should have confidence, and just play… because we have all the talent to be ready to go on Saturday.”

Keep an eye out for those streaking Gauchos as they try for their eighth win in a row while trying to keep a first place slot in the Big West.

The first serve tomorrow night is at 7 p.m. in the Thunderdome.