With six conference games remaining, the UCSB women’s volleyball team looks to close in on the league leaders with two Big West contests this weekend.

The third place Gauchos (13-8 overall, 5-3 in the Big West) will host struggling UC Irvine tonight at 7 and second place Long Beach State on Saturday in a match that will be televised on College Sports Television.

The Anteaters (6-14, 1-5 Big West) picked up their first conference victory last week over UC Riverside and have won two of their last three matches. Despite being near the bottom of the league standings, UC Irvine pushed UCSB to five games before falling to the Gauchos last month.

“Last time against Irvine we were down 2-1 and had to win in five, and this team has really learned not to take teams lightly,” UCSB Head Coach Kathy Gregory said.

The match against Long Beach State should be a competitive one. The defending conference co-champion 49ers (16-4, 6-1 Big West) are playing their best volleyball of the year, winning six straight matches and losing just one set in the process. Last time around, Long Beach overcame a set one loss to Santa Barbara to win in five games. A Santa Barbara win would strengthen UCSB’s chances to advance to the postseason.

“I think it definitely would help, because it would be the fourth team we beat that is ranked,” Gregory said. “We have to win the games that we’re supposed to win and we want to continue winning and take advantage of the TV game.”

Junior middle blocker Alexis Crimes, a First Team All-Big West honoree during each of the past two seasons, leads the Long Beach squad. Crimes ranks second in the conference in hitting percentage, trailing only UCSB’s own senior middle blocker Olivia Waldowski. Junior middle blocker Michaela Hasilakova and Crimes each totaled 21 kills for the 49ers in their first match against the Gauchos this season.

“They are probably the best team in terms of just talent and athletic-wise, but they have a tough job in playing at Cal Poly and then playing us,” Gregory said.

Since facing the two opponents the first time around, Santa Barbara has managed five wins in six matches, with the only loss coming at the hands of conference leader #19 Cal Poly.

“I would say that there is some improvements in part of our game [since their last meeting] like our serving and we’re hitting for a higher percentage, but the unknown is how well they are going to play,” Gregory said.

Last weekend, UCSB was especially impressive at the net, winning the battle of the block in both contests including Cal State Northridge, one of the tallest teams in the Big West. Senior outside hitter Jamie Garbisch tallied double-digit kills in each of the squad’s last two matches.

The Gauchos hope to gain some ground on second place Long Beach State, and further their postseason goals, with the cameras rolling.