The UCSB women’s volleyball team begins Big West play this weekend, playing road matches against conference foes Cal State Northridge and UC Irvine.

“We’re really excited to start conference,” senior setter Dana Vargas said.

After earning a trip to the NCAA’s last year, Santa Barbara (6-6 overall) has not started the season as well as they might have hoped.

Last weekend, the Gauchos went 1-2 in a tournament at the University of San Diego. They lost their first two matches in straight sets to #12 Minnesota and USD, respectively. In the second match, sophomore outside hitter Mimi Cuttrell led UCSB with nine kills, while Vargas had 30 assists.

The team bounced back to defeat San Diego State in five games to earn their sixth victory of the year. Senior outside hitter Charlene DeHoog led the attack with 18 kills to go along with her 10 digs. Junior middle blocker Stacey Schmidt added another 15 kills and led the team with a .429 hitting percentage. Vargas had tournament high 51 assists, which gave her a total of 107 for the weekend.

Despite the team’s .500 start, UCSB remains confident in its ability to return to the National Tournament.

“We believe we can win,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “[And] we’re getting better.”

The road to the NCAA’s begins this weekend, as the Gauchos will likely need to win the Big West in order to receive an automatic bid. Given the talent of play in the conference, the squad knows that earning a return trip will not be an easy feat.

“There are no easy games [in conference],” Gregory said. “All we can do is control our own destiny.”

However, despite the tough road ahead, Santa Barbara doesn’t mind their current position.

“We’re the underdogs again,” Vargas said. “But we’re ready to fight and show ourselves.”

The Gauchos first fight is against Cal State Northridge (6-8 overall ) on Friday. The Matadors are coming off a big loss and will be looking to rebound against Santa Barbara. Unfortunately for UCSB, the match is away.

“It’s always tough to play on the road,” Vargas said. “But we’re confident [we can win].”

From there, the Gauchos will travel south to Irvine (4-8 overall) to face off against the Anteaters. The match should be exceptionally competitive as Irvine tied the Gauchos for second place last year in Conference. However, the Anteaters may have a chip on their shoulder as UCSB earned an at-large bid to the National Tournament, while Irvine’s season ended early.

This weekend is a great test for Santa Barbara, and despite the Irvine game being a harder matchup, UCSB has not given the game much thought yet.

“Both teams [Irvine and Northridge] are really strong,” DeHoog said. “But we’re going to take it one game at a time.”