On a balanced BYU men’s volleyball team that is ranked No. 3, two players in particular have stood out both for their play and for the stories of how they ended up doing what they’ve been doing.
First, there’s 6-foot-10 senior Jake Langlois, who had never played organized volleyball before getting to BYU.
All Langlois has done this season is lead the team in kills overall and in 14 matches this season.
And then there’s junior libero Erik Sikes, the team’s leader in digs who has overcome knee injuries the past two seasons and has come back stronger than ever.
Thursday in Long Beach State’s Pyramid, BYU (24-3) faces No. 4 Hawaii (25-4) in one semifinal at 5 p.m. Pacific. BYU is the No. 2 seed in the tournament, while Hawaii is the No. 3 seed. The winner faces the winner of the second match between No. 1 Long Beach State or No. 4 UC Irvine on Saturday for the title and the automatic NCAA tournament bid that goes with it.
Langlois’ previous volleyball experience amounted to playing for fun in church.
“I tried out at BYU my freshman year,” he said. “My dad played (club volleyball) at BYU. I had grown a few inches and realized I could have played a tall sport instead of golf and soccer. I didn’t think I had a shot. I tried out for fun.”
Langlois, from San Jose, Calif., started off as the team manager and the year after he returned from his mission trip to Brazil, he started playing on the team.
“I’ve been practicing year-round for three years. I had to catch up that way,” he said.
BYU coach Shawn Olmstead, whose team lost in the 2016 NCAA title match to Ohio State, said Langlois has physical attributes that play into his favor.
“He puts in a lot of work and keeps getting better,” Olmstead said. “He’s really been focused on that since he’s come into the sport. He enjoys it. He likes the competition. He’s continually pushing himself to be better and make improvements. That’s what he does all the time.”
Sikes, from Laguna Niguel, Calif., played club at SCVC. He battled a torn ACL and a torn meniscus in his right knee the last two seasons and has come back strong each time.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “Not really playing in the off-season has been kind of tough. Last year was tough with moving laterally. This season I knew what to expect and what to work on and how much time to put in. I’ve been really conscious of my movements.”
Sikes said he’s moving around the court better this season.
“I can see the game a little better,” he said. “I want to be as active as possible. My reaction time is faster.”
“He enjoys volleyball,” Olmstead said. “He enjoys getting better. He’s someone that’s played volleyball a lot longer than Jake. He really pushes himself to be the best he can be. He focuses on the small things that he’s got to do to get better and constantly improve as a libero.”
Beyond the court, Olmstead marvels at Langlois’ and Sikes’ approach to life.
“People get to see these guys as players, but I am fortunate to get to know them as men outside the court,” he said. “They’re both great people. They’re complete teammates. They’re guys you want to have on your team. They’re guys that you want to interact with the guys you have on the team, the players you have. They have all those qualities you’d want in someone as a member of your team. They’re willing to work with each other. They’re willing to push one another and give good feedback.”
Both Langlois and Sikes point to BYU’s improved passing and serving as two key areas that have the Cougars in the MPSF semifinals. Of the four remaining MPSF teams, BYU has the highest ace-per-set average at 1.66. Long Beach is next at 1.5, followed by Irvine (1.4) and Hawaii (1.3).
“Last year those things weren’t the greatest,” Sikes said. “Serving and passing are a lot better and it’s something we excel at now.”
BYU setter Leo Durkin has set his squad to a .317 hitting percentage. The Cougars have five players with more than 100 kills. In addition to Langlois, that group includes Ben Patch (4.50 kills per set), Brenden Sander (2.84), Tim Dobbert (2.18) and Price Jarman (1.61). Jarman (78 total blocks) and Joseph Grosh (80 total blocks) have been key at the net.
BYU swept Hawaii in both meetings in Provo during the regular season. BYU outhit Hawaii .440 to .188 in the first match and .329 to .264 in the second. Langlois had 13 kills and hit .450 in the first match and had 12 kills and hit .356 in the second. Hawaii’s only losses this season have come to BYU and Long Beach State.
“Hawaii is a really good serving team,” Langlois said. “They will come out and bomb. We are going to have to control the pass. It’s going to be a battle.”
Thursday’s other match features No. 1 Long Beach State (25-3) against No. 5 UC Irvine (20-6). Long Beach State swept the season series from Irvine, winning 3-0 at Irvine and 3-1 at Walter. Long Beach State’s losses this season have been to Loyola-Chicago, Ohio State and BYU (split with BYU in Provo).