In the final stretch of season play, the UCSB women’s volleyball team (18-8 overall, 12-2 in the Big West) travels to Loyola for a nonconference matchup tonight, as it makes the final push for a late bid to the NCAA playoffs next month.

Coming off a weekend sweep of Pacific and Northridge, Long Beach State (23-5 overall, 12-2 Big West) now shares the Big West title with Santa Barbara, and received the automatic NCAA berth, by virtue of a 38-9 record in total Big West sets played, while the Gauchos only finished 37-15.

So tonight Santa Barbara will travel south to face Loyola (19-9 overall, 7-7 West Coast Conference) in order to beef up its overall record and bolster its chances to receive a bid to appear in postseason play. Loyolay has won three of its last five matches, while UCSB tries to continue its momentum, winning 14 of its last 15 games.

“This season has been a matter of finding out our weaknesses,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “The important thing we realize is that we’re not going to get an easy draw so we have to use the next three teams to do better and prepare us for the NCAA [playoffs].”

LMU is in a position similar to the Gauchos. It finished fifth in the West Coast Conference, behind #11 Santa Clara, Pepperdine, #22 USD and Saint Mary’s, respectively, a number of teams that the Gauchos have already faced earlier this year, coming up with one win against the Waves last month.

In the past weekend, LMU defeated Gonzaga 30-23, 18-30, 30-24, 30-18 in Washington. The Gauchos will have to look out for the Lion’s freshman outside hitter Erin Downey, who recorded a career-high 16 kills and hit .464 on the night against Gonzaga. Along side Downey, fellow freshman outside hitter Emily Day recorded 11 kills of her own and eight scoops. And, holding her spot as one of three leading seniors on the squad, middle blocker Dina DeBernardi slammed 13 kills, five blocks and went .423 in all four sets.

“We are just going to try and run their offense and practice against that,” Gregory said. “I really want us to try to be more consistent and really work on our passing. Loyola is going to be ready to compete in the NCAA [playoffs] and so this is going to be a really important game for us.”

Santa Barbara gears up for the first serve at 7 tonight in Los Angeles and will conclude play this weekend in Long Beach’s Thanksgiving Tournament on Friday and Saturday.