The UCSB women’s volleyball team is off to a solid start, currently in first place with a record of 4-1. Last year, the Gauchos went 10-6 in Big West (16-13 overall), finishing in fourth place.

“People want to beat us because we’re known to be a very competitive team in the league,” senior libero Chelsey Lowe said. “Now that we’re in first, we have to play even harder because teams are looking at us as a chance to take first place. It comes with more responsibility, but it’s exciting.”

In the Preseason Coaches Poll, Long Beach State was selected as the favorite to win the Big West and earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The 49ers finished last year tied in second place with Cal Poly at 12-4 and earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs, going to the tournament for the 24th year in a row. Santa Barbara, who beat Long Beach in its first conference match of the season, was predicted to finish in third, ahead of CSU Fullerton but behind Cal Poly. Fullerton won the conference championship last year, earning an automatic bid to theNCAAs, and is the sole Big West team to beat UCSB thus far.

“UC Davis and Long Beach are the two most talented teams we’ve played so far,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “But Fullerton beat us. If you’re not ready to play, you’re going to lose, no matter what the rankings are. If you start to believe you’re better than someone, it’s not true. You can’t overrate yourself. We’re all competing for the same thing … I wouldn’t put us over Long Beach.”

Right now, Davis and Long Beach are right behind UCSB, each at 4-2. Fullerton (3-2) is in fourth, Pacific (3-3) is in fifth and CSU Northridge and Cal Poly are tied for sixth at 2-3. UC Riverside and UC Irvine are at the bottom with 1-4.

“Everyone has beaten good teams, so anyone can take the title,” sophomore middle blocker Katey Thompson said.

While only the first place team gets an automatic bid, the NCAA may take one or two more teams if the Big West conference continues to impress.

“The conference is pretty strong this year,” Lowe said. “We’re hoping they take more than one team, maybe two or three this year.”

The Gauchos do not want to rely on anything but a first place finish, though.

“We have potential but we have to play every game,” Gregory said.

UCSB will look to work toward that goal of a Big West conference championship in the team’s next match tomorrow at Cal Poly.