CHAMPAIGN — Erika Tock has the psychological part of coaching down pat.
The St. Thomas More volleyball coach knew exactly how to respond after her team was dominated in the first set of Thursday night's Sangamon Valley Conference match against Paxton-Buckley-Loda.
It wasn't by yelling. It wasn't by being critical and dwelling on the mistakes. It was all about offering her team a break.
"I told them if we win (the match), we won't practice tomorrow," Tock said.
The Sabers rebounded from a 25-10 opening-set loss to play like a team ready for a day off, rallying to win the next two sets, 25-16, 25-14.
Actually, Tock was 1 for 2 from the psychological end.
"I've mentioned it starts with the warmup," she said.
Her Sabers — traditionally not impressive in pregame drills — opened eyes with Thursday's performance.
"Normally, we're not so great," senior Ally Heffernan said. "It's kind of ironic. Tonight, it was on. We got it backward. It took us until the second game."
From St. Thomas More's perspective, the finish was much better than the start. Tock, whose team is unbeaten in league matches, is learning to not put much stock in the warmup.
"Often, it does not reflect how the game will go," she said. "You just need to get out there and play. A lot of time they put thought into it and it causes them to overthink."
Senior Megan Casagrande, who had six of her team-high 11 kills in the second-set comeback, could feel the transformational turnaround.
"The momentum builds up and explodes," she said. "After every point, it gets better and better."
Heffernan served back-to-back aces as the Sabers (10-9) turned a 17-14 second-set cushion into a 23-15 lead.
"She has a lot of power and has learned to harness it," Tock said. "She's a lot more consistent this year with her serve."
The Sabers built a 5-1 lead in the tiebreaking third set, and PBL (10-5) was unable to pull closer than three points thereafter.
Though she was concerned as far back as Wednesday's practice, Tock controlled her emotions.
"I've got to maintain a calm exterior," she said. "Our practice Wednesday was unfocused. We have great seniors and great athletes, but we talk about mentality on the court. They realized they could play better."
Senior Shannon Siuts had 19 assists for St. Thomas More and junior Janie Skulborstad, who is returning from a back injury, added six kills. In both the second and third sets, Siuts went to Casagrande, who provided the 24th point with a kill.
"If we need a kill, Megan is our go-to girl," Tock said. "It's difficult to stop her, and she's good at making adjustments."
Paxton-Buckley-Loda junior Kortnie Schroeder had a double-double with 15 digs and 11 kills. She also had three aces. Junior Kayla Cowan had 21 assists, and junior Kandace Hofer had seven kills.