PROVO — To say Erik Sikes has had a rough time with injuries since arriving at BYU might be an understatement.
A meniscus tear sustained in October, on top of his ACL tear sustained prior to the 2016 season, has provided a huge challenges for the BYU men's volleyball starting libero, although he's met both challenges. The junior from Southern California has gone through the season providing stellar play as the Cougars' primary receiver on the defensive — a role often overlooked by the casual volleyball fan.
"He's a kid who couldn't start the season but stayed at it and came back," said BYU coach Shawn Olmstead. "He pushed it. He wanted to get back on the court, and he's had to go through some soreness, and some aches and pains, and he's done a really good job."
Sikes' injury issues have been just one of several for the Cougars this season. Top pin-hitters Ben Patch (groin) and Brenden Sander (knee) have endured issues of their own, with Sander being limited early in the year and Patch during the bulk of MPSF conference play.
The good news is the Cougars appear as healthy as they've been in a while entering the NCAA championships next week.
"Credit to (the players.) They've pushed through a lot of things that people don't know, and nor does that matter," Olmstead said. "We've put together a really good season, so I feel we're in a good spot."
BYU's spot involves a matchup with Conference of the Carolinas champion Barton on Tuesday, with the winner advancing to take on Long Beach in the semifinal round, which will be played on Thursday. All NCAA championship matches will be played at Ohio State.
As for Sikes, he feels as healthy as he's been since playing for BYU and is excited for another shot at an NCAA championship.
"I honestly feel perfectly fine and better than I did following my ACL injury," he said. "It's been a long season, so you have some aches and pains that go with it, but I honestly don't feel any of those pains are from anything being wrong with my knee. I really don't think about it at all when out there playing, which is great."
Sikes understands his importance to the team's success, and hopes to lead a better serving and passing effort than the team set forth in a loss to Hawaii in the MPSF semifinal round.
"The passing and receiving was not anywhere near where it should be, and that has to get better," Sikes said. "We've been working hard on it and we're ready for anything. We're working with a cannon in receiving serves, because last year that really affected us — not being able to receive as well as we needed to."
Specific execution issues aside, the Cougars will send a very experienced team to Columbus this week, which has been right there to take it all at the end of each of the two past seasons. All that experience does away with a lot of anxiety and turns it into something else, according to Patch.
"There is confidence, for sure," Patch said. "I think I just am very calm, and I think our team is very calm. We are excited, but we know it is coming and we are going to give it our all."
BYU's bid for an NCAA championship begins on Tuesday at 6 p.m. EDT and will be held at St. John Arena on the Ohio State campus. The match will be streamed live on ncaa.com.