WHITEFISH — When the Rocky Mountain College athletic teams open fall practices this fall, two new coaches will be leading their teams.
Then the interim director of athletics, Jeff Malby named Chris Stutzriem Rocky’s new football coach in December. Two months later, Yang Yang was introduced as the Battlin’ Bears’ new volleyball coach.
“Well, they both have big feet, so they’ll be able to fit in the two people that left,” Malby laughed during a break at the Frontier Conference athletic directors meeting in June. “They’re just so well-trained, and they’re both different in their approach. Coach Yang comes from a different culture, and she’s learned over the years that it is a different culture and it’s not the same as she grew up in. She’s a players’ coach, she’s become one of those, and players like her. With Coach Stutz, same deal. The coach that left that they liked a lot. He didn’t try to come in and make it the same … he just has been himself. So, I think they’re both going to do really well. They continue to recruit. But they’re pleasant to be around, too.”
Rocky removed the interim tag from Malby’s title in June, and Stutzriem previously spent two seasons as the Battlin’ Bears’ offensive coordinator under head coach Jason Petrino. Petrino left the post this offseason to become the defensive coordinator at Southern Illinois, opening the door for Stutzriem to return.
Petrino helped rebuild the Rocky football program, recording the team’s first winning season since 2013 when the Bears went 6-5 in 2017. They were even better in 2018, going 8-4 and winning the Frontier Conference championship.
“With Coach Stutz, he’s on top of it, he’s a leader,” Malby said. “I think he’s mature past his 30 years of age. They know who the boss is, that’s the thing. He’s the leader in meetings with the other coaches, and he’s got good ideas.”
Yang steps into a position with even bigger shoes to fill. Laurie Kelly led the Rocky volleyball women for 14 years, guiding the team to six NAIA national tournaments, including two Elite 8 appearances.
Under Kelly’s guidance, the Bears reached new heights in 2014: the No. 1 ranking in the nation and a program-record 32 wins. That team was anchored by Yang, then a 6-foot middle blocker who led the nation in kills and was named the Frontier Conference player of the year.
“Yang was a no-brainer, because she was so well-trained by Laurie. You can see her experience from Laurie, the traits for organization, she’s smart, too,” Malby said.
Yang will coach her first match on Aug. 14 when Rocky plays the University of Saint Francis (Ind.) at the Summer Slam Tournament in Fullerton, Calif. The Bears were 30-6 last season, winning the Frontier Conference regular-season title and two matches at the NAIA national tournament.
Meanwhile, Stutzriem and the football team will start their 2019 season at Dickinson (N.D.) State on Aug. 29 before opening their Frontier title defense at home against Montana State University-Northern on Sept. 7.