Senior Brittany Howard thinks Stanford's seventh-ranked women's volleyball team is on the right path and she has the proof.
The Cardinal swept visiting Arizona State, 25-17, 25-23, 25-9, in a Pac-12 Conference match Wednesday. The 14th-ranked Sun Devils, who beat Stanford in four sets nearly four weeks ago, had a chance to move into a tie with the Cardinal in the conference standings.
Of course, Stanford must still take care of its own business, but as Howard suggested, the Cardinal is in much better shape.
"We're on the incline," she told Pac-12 Networks. "We're in a pretty good place. We're happy to get a win and we're looking forward to playing Arizona on Friday."
Howard combined with freshman Hayley Hodson to produce 24 kills in the win over Arizona State, which still figures to be in line for a postseason bid.
"It's been an interesting year without Inky (Ajanaku) and we had a lot of injuries we had to combat at the beginning season," Howard said. "Through the entire process we've shown relentlessness and grit. We're on the right path now."
Stanford won its third straight and six of seven overall. Freshmen like Hodson and Halland McKenna seem to have shaken off beginning jitters and are playing with more confidence. When senior Jordan Burgess is healthy, she's an All-American, and she's getting healthy.
Undefeated and top-ranked USC plays at Washington at the same time Stanford and Arizona are scheduled to go at it. No matter which team wins that match, the Cardinal, if victorious, will benefit.
Either there will be a tie for second or third (UCLA, tied with the Huskies for second, is at Washington State) or Stanford closes the gap with the Trojans.
The Bruins play at Washington on Sunday morning, another match from which the Cardinal will benefit.
Hodson led all players with 14 kills on .345 hitting to go with eight digs, two blocks and an ace. Howard finished with 10 kills, nine digs and two blocks for the Cardinal. As a team, Stanford out hit ASU .324 to .138 and led, 11-4, in the block column.
Senior setter Madi Bugg spread the ball around, picking up 39 assists to go with six digs, four blocks and four kills. She also had three service aces, tying her with Kristin Klein (1988-91) for 10th all-time with 113 career aces.
Burgess and redshirt sophomore middle blockers Merete Lutz and Ivana Vanjak each had six kills. Burgess finished with 10 digs and two blocks, while Lutz notched five blocks and Vanjak had six. McKenna collected a match-high 11 digs.