BOUNTIFUL — Last season did not wind up with the sort of ending Bountiful first envisioned when it embarked on defending its 2006 4A girl's soccer title.

The road to another state championship ground to a halt with a shocking first-round shootout loss to Olympus. Things did not appear much more promising on paper coming into this fall, with only two starters returning and a host of younger players expected to play major roles.

But if you thought such obstacles would ever slow the Braves in returning to championship form, you would be mistaken.

"It's still Bountiful," senior goalkeeper Amy Clark said. "We're known for soccer."

And, early in the season, the Braves are also becoming known for a high scoring offense. Last week, Bountiful picked apart defending 3A champion Judge Memorial and previously unbeaten Skyline by identical 7-2 scores.

The team's attack received a nice boost with the return of Monica Okapal. The senior forward sat out all but five games in 2007 after injuring her knee but is already the leading scorer in 4A with 11 goals in four games.

Okapal also looked to be a potent scoring threat for the Braves after chalking up eight goals in those five matches. Rehabbing a torn ACL to heal was a frustrating turn of events for her.

"I hated sitting on the sideline and watching," Okapal said. "That's the worst."

Where the Braves think they have a gem is with Clark at goalkeeper. She moved from the midfield to replace departed all-state selection Molly Merrell. Bountiful coach Dave Wigham thinks Clark can follow in Merrell's footsteps quite nicely.

"Amy is the best-kept secret in the state," Wigham said. "She could help us at center-mid, but she's played goalie before and said, 'I want to help the team, so I'll go in goal.'"

If Clark performs as well as expected, she'll be the latest addition to 4A's collection of dominant goalkeepers.

Highland, a 2007 semifinalist seems to have picked up right where it left off thanks to the efforts of Erica Owens. In four games, Owens has allowed a single goal and the Rams are — not surprisingly — looking like the cream of the crop in Region 6 again.

Orem looks strong again this year based alone on what Hillary Smith has done. Smith has the defending state champions out to a 4-0 start after recording four consecutive shutouts. On the other end, Tanisia Wilson is pacing the Tiger offense with five goals in four games.

Both Orem and Highland are tangling with familiar foes in their respective regions. Murray has started strong behind top-notch play from Stephanie Palmer Jordan Gallacher, and Rosie Gochnour. Springville could easily defend its region title with a host of talent at its disposal again.

The Red Devils might be hardest to match on offense where Natalie Young and Alexis Eaton are averaging a combined 2.5 goals per game.

In Region 5, Woods Cross should be a stronger factor with ex-Northridge star Niki Fernandes in the fold. Dixie, with standout Mikkel Griffin, looks to be the class of Region 9 once again.

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