In a battle for second place in the Big West, the UCSB women’s volleyball team takes on Cal State Northridge tonight in its second-to-last home game of the season. The Gauchos (14-11 overall) and Matadors (13-11) both have identical conference records at 7-5.

“We really need to focus on getting second place in this league if we want to have a chance for playoffs,” senior right side Stacey Schmidt said.

Long Beach State already clinched at least a share of the Big West title with its win last weekend at Cal State Fullerton, which secures an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Still, the Gauchos are hoping that at least two Big West teams will be selected for the tournament this year. That may depend on how UCSB does against the Matadors, as they play each other twice over the next nine days.

“If we can pass and receive well, we’ll get [Northridge] in off positions,” Head Coach Kathy Gregory said. “We’re trying to improve our offense to be little better … I hope we give our best on these [last two home] performances.”

Northridge is coming off of a strong weekend in which it swept both UC Davis and Pacific, and won five of its last six games overall. The Matadors on the other hand, are looking for their first win in this series since 2007.

“They’re coming off two great wins against teams we had difficulty playing,” Gregory said. “They’re playing their best, running a much better attack [than earlier in the season]. They have a lot of good weapons and are a very balanced team … it’s gonna be a tough match.”

However, Northridge did lose their last road game, 0-3 at Long Beach on Oct. 29. Meanwhile, Santa Barbara has won two in a row, riding the momentum from Saturday’s 3-0 sweep over Irvine.

“[Saturday’s win] is good, ‘cause we have momentum going into this game,” freshman setter Hanna Nielson said. “We just have to keep winning and keep getting better.”

While both teams are very close in most statistical categories, UCSB ranks first in digs in the Big West, led by senior libero Chelsey Lowe, who needs 17 digs tonight to move into ninth place on UCSB’s all-time list. One area where Northridge may have an advantage is in its blocking. The Matadors rank No. 3 in the Big West in blocks whereas the Gauchos rank No. 6.

“Northridge is probably a stronger blocking team, so we need to work more on our coverage and hitting around the block, which we did [against Irvine],” Schmidt said.

Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. at the Thunderdome.