Ian Billings/Mustang News

In its next three matches, the Cal Poly volleyball team will face the top three teams in the Big West Conference. The Mustangs take on conference-leading UC Santa Barbara on Saturday inside Mott Athletics Center.

Jacob Lauing

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Riding a two-game win streak, the Cal Poly volleyball team hosts UC Santa Barbara on Saturday, beginning the second half of the 2013 conference schedule.

All season, the story has been Cal Poly’s performance against stronger teams.

The Mustangs – who faced a daunting non-conference schedule – are an even 4-4 in Big West Conference play, with all four losses coming against squads with better records.

Those four losses were consecutive and came after Cal Poly opened its conference schedule with two victories at home.

Heading into last weekend, the Mustangs held a 1-8 record away from Mott Athletics Center.

But they took advantage of two weak opponents, dropping only one set through two matches against eighth-place Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside, which owns an 0-8 record in the Big West this year.

“It’s nice to win,” head coach Sam Crosson said. “Winning validates a lot of things. It’s good to go on the road and get victories.”

Last weekend also marked the first road trip without Chelsea Hardin on the court. The senior outside hitter suffered a compound dislocation of her finger against UC Davis on Oct. 18. Hardin underwent surgery immediately following the match, and will miss anywhere from two to four more weeks as her stitches heal.

Even on the sidelines, Hardin’s 3.11 kills per set still rank fifth in the Big West. In her absence, sophomore Hannah Schleis and senior Megan McConnell have filled the void.

Schleis led all players with 18 kills against UC Davis, while McConnell has notched 46 kills over the past three matches. Freshman Anna Gorman led the Mustangs against Cal State Fullerton with 15 kills, a season high for the outside hitter.

Meanwhile, libero Steffi Sooter continues to dominate on defense. The senior averages 3.08 digs per set, with 240 on the season. McConnell is close behind with 204 digs of her own.

Saturday marks the Mustangs’ second meeting with rival UC Santa Barbara (12-8, 7-1 Big West) this season. On Oct. 5, Cal Poly fell 3-1 to the Gauchos, who lead the Big West with 14.1 kills per set in conference play.

“Everyone here gets fired up for Santa Barbara,” Crosson said. “We’ll go through this week and watch video like we always do. There’s a lot of things that we’re better at now than we were then.”

The next three matches will test Cal Poly, as UC Santa Barbara, Hawai’i and Cal State Northridge round out the top of the Big West Conference.

The Gauchos and Cal State Northridge – which Cal Poly faces on Nov. 14 – are tied for first, with Hawaii sitting in third place. The Mustangs will host Hawaii on Nov. 8.

“I would expect a battle,” Crosson said. “We’ll see if we can go out and get a victory.”

First serve is at 7 p.m.

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