With a season of blood, sweat and tears only two games from completion, the UCSB women’s volleyball team hits the home stretch this upcoming week, looking to secure a bid into the NCAA Tournament. Currently with the 40th-ranked RPI in the nation and tied for second in the Big West, the revitalized Gauchos of 2009 will make a long-awaited return to the Thunderdome this Saturday at 7 p.m. to take on Cal State Northridge before a midweek clash with San Diego State.

“We could finish anywhere from first to fourth [in conference], but we’re just going to try and win both games to finish in a good position,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said.

After falling to Pacific in straight sets this past weekend, the team will be getting a big boost with the return of conference kills leader and prospective All-American Becca Saraceno. Following a nasty collision with the scorer’s table in Cal Poly two weeks ago, the outside hitter will be back in action as she attempts to shake off the cobwebs before a probable postseason appearance. Already having to battle back from injury, Saraceno will also have to fight back emotions as she is set to be honored on Senior Night prior to the opening serve.

“She’s not at full strength, but I don’t think it will be a problem,” Gregory said. “Just having her out there is a big lift to the team.”

Playing without Saraceno, UCSB was able to come out with an even split, edging out a crucial 3-1 road win against UC Davis — the team that is currently tied with them in the Big West — before the letdown at Pacific. But with their go-to option back in the starting lineup, the offensive opportunities should be plentiful across the Santa Barbara frontline.

“Our other hitters have been working really hard at taking pressure off [Becca],” junior setter Dana Vargas said. “We should be able to spread the ball better with her back.”

Although Cal State Northridge was swept on its home court when they met with the Gauchos earlier this season, Gregory maintains that there is no reason for her team to be overconfident.

“When we beat Northridge last time, we had a great game, and they didn’t play well at all,” Gregory said. “Since then, they’ve defeated [first-place] Long Beach State at home.”

The importance of their final Big West match leading up to the SDSU finale has also instilled a sense of urgency in the players.

“It’s really important that we win these two games because both of these teams are unranked,” Vargas said. “Not winning out would put us in a tight situation [in making the NCAAs].”

Simply put, the Gauchos (20-7 overall, 10-5 Big West) will not be content hanging their hats on the team’s first winning season in three years. With a new philosophy that has led to four wins over squads ranked in the top-25, the bar has been set at the NCAA tournament and beyond.

“We’re feeling good, but we’re definitely not satisfied, and we won’t be until we get into NCAAs,” Vargas said.