Coming off a victory against UC Riverside (5-13 overall, 1-6 in the Big West), the UCSB women’s volleyball team will look to keep its winning momentum as it hits the road to take on conference leader Long Beach State (13-5 overall, 6-1 Big West) tonight at 7. The Gauchos (7-12 overall, 2-5 Big West) will then head to Cal State Northridge (7-13 overall, 4-4 Big West) for a game Saturday at 7 p.m.

The Gauchos will have to bring their best as the race for the Big West crown continues against two of the league’s better teams. The 49ers are riding a six-match winning streak while CSUN came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat UCSB earlier this season in the Thunderdome.

“[Long Beach] has beaten us in the past, but we have shown them that we can beat them and play hard,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “We are going out there to compete and take things one game at a time. [Northridge] is very good at blocking. They have hurt us in the past with their blocking, but we have been practicing and we will be ready for them.”

Leading the Gauchos into this crucial weekend is junior co-captain and outside hitter Lauren McLaughlin who leads the Big West with her 4.62 kills per game and ranks 40th nationally among Division I players. During the Riverside game, McLaughlin tallied 22 kills on 66 attempts and hit at a .242 clip. In addition, McLaughlin is currently 127 kills away from capturing 1,000 career kills. Junior libero Leigh Stephenson is second in the Big West with her 5.17 digs per game, which have helped catapult the Gauchos atop the statistics with 17.24 digs per game.

“It will be an interesting weekend. Both teams are very aggressive and everyone wants to win at this point,” Gregory said. “I tell my girls that we just have to play the game. We have been practicing real hard, and we have improved so much since the [Cal Poly] game.”

UCSB will have to prepare for 49ers senior middle blocker Alexis Crimes, who leads the team with 4.57 kills per game, 1.41 blocks per game, and a .325 hitting clip. Junior setter Nicole Vargas – the older sister of Gaucho freshman setter Dana Vargas – averages 11.68 assists per game. For the Matadors, junior middle blocker Val Kepler has a .307 hitting average while junior libero Amy Hultner averages 4.53 digs per game.

The Gauchos will return to the Thunderdome on Oct. 26 to play UC Davis (3-17 overall, 0-8 Big West) followed by a match with Pacific (11-5 overall, 5-3 Big West) on Oct. 27. Both games start at 7 p.m.