BILLINGS -- The volleyball women at Rocky Mountain College are in unfamiliar -- yet, familiar -- territory.
The Battlin' Bears open their seventh NAIA national tournament on Tuesday in Sioux City, Iowa, but never have they played it in the spring. RMC head coach Yang Yang has been to volleyball's big dance twice -- her only two years as a player at Rocky -- but now that she's in charge, her nerves are admittedly a little more enhanced.
"I'm more nervous now just because when I was a player, I know what I can do. But now, I don't know what they can do," Yang told MTN Sports with a chuckle.
Without question, she certainly knows Rocky's potential. The Bears blistered nearly everybody in the Frontier Conference this season, closing with a 17-4 league record. Each of those losses were at the hands of conference champion University of Providence, which the Bears also beat once.
Rocky then jumped all over Bushnell University with a straight-set playoff sweep to reach this week's national tournament.
"I think we came into that first playoff match just excited and ready to play new faces across the net," said Bears outside hitter Monique Rodriguez. "I think we were ready to win that one and on to the next. I think that's our attitude right now, just what's next."
The Bears face Indiana Wesleyan and Midland University in a pair of pool play openers on Tuesday. Rodriguez feels like Rocky's biggest assets may be a contagious energy that develops once the Bears get rolling, and a coach not afraid to bring it.
"Yang gets fired up, she totally does," Rodriguez said smiling. "And I think that translates into the rest of the team."
"I'm more like a screaming coach," Yang confessed, "but I enjoy telling them all the different jokes, too."
"We have our leaders on the court who definitely show a lot of energy all the time, and I think that reflects off of everybody all the time, too," Rodriguez said.
Rocky is among some national tournament teams with the advantage of playing all of its matches during the spring season. Other schools split theirs between fall and spring and now have to quickly regain that continuity.
If defense wins championships, it could be great news for the Bears. Theirs has been stifling all season. In fact, Yang said libero Ayla Embry leads the nation right now in one defensive category.
As for any weakness the Bears may be vulnerable to:
"I really cannot think about that, because I don't want to tell people the secret," Yang revealed with another smile.
Spoken like a veteran head coach and a former player with NAIA national tournament experience.