Senior setter Dana Vargas has a long history with team rivals Long Beach State. She grew up in the area and her older sister, Nicole, played setter for the 49ers until she graduated after Dana’s sophomore year.

“It was really hard playing against her,” Vargas said. “So I’m glad I can just beat Long Beach State and not worry about beating my big sister. It takes some pressure off.”

Vargas and the other members of UCSB women’s volleyball take on the 49ers (16-5 overall, 6-2 Big West) and Cal State Fullerton (17-5, 6-2) on the road this weekend, beginning tonight at Fullerton’s Titan Gymnasium. The squad split games between the teams this season already, beating Long Beach State but losing to Fullerton in matches at the Thunderdome, but the environment at the Long Beach Pyramid and Fullerton might change things — especially with so much on the line, with both teams trailing the first-place Gauchos by just half a game.

“They’re both two very physical teams. We’re concerned about their size,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said.

“They’re going to come back and play even harder,” freshman outside hitter Kara Sherrard said. “I know they’re really going to want to beat us.”

The Gauchos have won four of their last six games. They are 55-5 against the Titans, although they lost 3-0 to them the last time the two teams played on Oct. 2. However, the match came one night after the team faced Long Beach — then ranked 21st in the country — and beat the team 3-2. The Gauchos’ match against Long Beach also marked the night that Gregory earned “Legend of the Dome” honors as the long-standing head coach of the volleyball team.

“It was a special night for Kathy, we wanted to get the win for her,” Sherrard added. “We pulled together as at team.”

In lieu of sophomore outside hitter Leah Sully, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament in the first game of the season, Sherrard has averaged 2.30 kills per set — good for third-highest on the team. Junior Stacey Schmidt leads the Gauchos with 3.36 kills per set.

“The older girls have stepped up now that we’re in our senior season,” Vargas said. “It’s great.”

After this weekend, the Gauchos have five more Big West matches before the first round of the NCAA tournament begins on Dec. 2. Both weekend matches begin at 7 p.m.

“We can compete with anybody,” Vargas said. “We can still get a lot better. We’re starting to peak at the end of the season and hopefully these two matches show it.”