This weekend’s final conference matches – the last two home games of what has been a very trying season for the UCSB women’s volleyball team – will offer the Gauchos a chance for some redemption against Big West opponents.

Today, the Gauchos (10-17 overall, 5-9 in the Big West) will try to avenge last Saturday’s loss, as they welcome UC Irvine (20-9, 10-4 Big West) to the Thunderdome. UCSB will take on UC Riverside (6-19, 2-12 Big West) tomorrow and honor its seniors before the last home game of the season.

In last Saturday’s match at UC Irvine, the Gauchos were able to take game one, but failed to capitalize on their early lead, falling in four games to the Anteaters. This second meeting should be a hard fought game, as Irvine hopes to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive.

“We’re better prepared this time around,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “We practiced against their offense, and we will know what to expect on Friday.”

On Saturday, the Gauchos will look to sweep the season series with UC Riverside, a team they beat in four games on Oct. 13. Although Riverside is near the bottom of the conference standings, UCSB does not want to take any chances on senior night.

“This is not an easy conference, every team is competitive, and all games tend to be close,” Gregory said. “Getting a win on Saturday is very important for us. We have never lost on senior night, and although it has been a tough season, everyone on this team knows that we don’t want our seniors to lose this game.”

On Saturday, the Gauchos will honor their two seniors, middle blockers Brett Quirarte and Lauren Smith. Quirarte, recipient of back-to-back First Team All-Big West honors, leads the Gauchos this season with a team high 120 blocks and ranks fifth in the conference in hitting percentage, with a .321 clip. Smith, in her second season since transferring from Ventura Junior College, has been an impact player at the net, contributing critical blocks and kills to the Gaucho front line.

For the first time in school history, the women’s volleyball program will finish the season with a losing record and will miss its first NCAA tournament since its inception during the 1981 season. Gregory, the only head coach the program has ever known, is already looking to rebuild and reload for next season.

“Right now we are laying the foundation for next year, and working just as hard and putting in as much effort as if we were going to the NCAA Championships,” Gregory said.