As the top four teams in the country remain locked in a vicious fight for first place, the #3 Gauchos return home tonight to take on a tragically inferior UCSD squad.

But even coming off an impressive weekend in Hawaii, UCSB (10-3 overall, 8-2 MPSF) is not taking anything for granted.

“We’ve got to come out hard like we always do,” said junior middle blocker Theo Brunner. “In past years, for some of the sub-par teams, we haven’t come out as strong and have had some close matches, even lost to teams that we shouldn’t have lost to. [But] I don’t think we have that problem this year because we have a lot of guys who want to win and want to show everyone that if you’re not as good as us then we’ll [crush] you.”

Were San Diego (4-7 overall, 1-6 MPSF) to pull off the upset, it would be only the second time in 33 matches they were able to do so against the Gaucho squad.

The Triton’s only gleeful moment this season in league play came when they upset #14 USC in Los Angeles.

“They’re a scrappy team and a smaller team, but they’re well coached and they have good ball control,” Brunner said. “It’s not like we’re guaranteed the win because they could get hot.”

Modesty aside, San Diego could be in for a rough night. Head Coach Ken Preston has worked during this short week between matches to make sure of that.

“San Diego and Long Beach run a similar kind of offense – it’s an overload offense – so we’ve been working on our blocking schemes for that,” Brunner said. “And we’ve been working on some things that we didn’t do so well against Hawaii, like transition plays.”

A rough start against Hawaii last Friday nearly cost the team a destructive blemish on their record as they fell behind two games to none in the first match, but with a calm demeanor and strict determination the Gauchos fought their way back to win six of the next seven games and take the weekend sweep.

And while the customary praise was surely due to the team leaders such as Brunner and Evan Patak, the effort was a team endeavor.

“We get a lot of support from our bench and we have a lot of faith in the guys that are there,” Brunner said. “They can come in and play as good as our starters, so that’s a big factor. And I think that was a big part of the win in Hawaii, because I think just about everybody played. In the second match, Sam Moisenco did a really good job and in the first match Armen [Zakarian] and Aaron Richman came in and did a good job [as well].”

Across the league, #1 BYU heads to the coast to face #2 Pepperdine tonight in a battle of titans. Pepperdine’s slow start left them a ways down in the rankings, but with the return from injury of their infamous 6’8″ setter Jonathon Winder, they have their fought their way into a position to grab the top spot with a win tonight.

“[Pepperdine’s run] doesn’t really surprise me. At the beginning of the season they were missing Jon Winder, and he’s one of the keys to their team,” Brunner said. “But none of us are worried. They left our gym pretty lucky having beaten us in three. I don’t think that’s going to happen again.”

Tonight’s match begins at 7 p.m. in Rob Gym.