WOODS CROSS — It's never easy to pack up and move to another school — especially in your senior year. For Nikki Fernandes, it wasn't just about making new friends or adjusting to a new slate of classes and teachers.

Fernandes saw changes on the soccer field as well, where circumstances out of her control forced her to adapt to playing with a host of brand new teammates for the first time in many years.

Such a situation could be a recipe for disaster, but so far she has found the right ingredients at Woods Cross to cook up something good.

"I feel like I fit in," Fernandes said. "They really welcomed me and my sister. So it's been good. We're meshing together and working hard together as a team on and off the field."

A 6-1 start offers solid evidence of just how perfectly she and the Wildcats match up with one another. With her experience at forward and midfield, Fernandes offers Woods Cross the type of explosive scorer up top that it has coveted for years.

If she can get on a breakaway, something good will usually come of it. And even when Fernandes is corralled by a defense, her presence is enough to be something of a game-changing factor.

"She draws pressure to herself, which opens up other players for possibilities," longtime Wildcats coach Kevin Rigby said. "With our opponents focused so much on Nikki, we have several girls scoring now who, last year, weren't scoring."

Among those emerging beside Fernandes are Rylei North and Kendra Pemberton. North is the team's second-leading scorer and Pemberton has impressed coaches with the key role she's played so far.

Even with the pieces falling into place, finishing atop Region 5 will not be easy. Bountiful has won two out of the last three region titles and the Braves look stronger than ever with potent scorers like Felcia Sturgeon and Monica Okapal to power their offense.

Okapal, in particular, has been nothing short of fantastic after a torn ACL sidelined her for all but five games in 2007. The senior forward has produced 15 goals in seven games — a total which leads both 4A and the state.

Sturgeon is also one of 4A's top five scorers, with nine goals to her credit in the same span.

While Bountiful and Woods Cross are favorites to capture the title, there are other teams who have shown potential of crashing the party.

Mountain Crest, in particular, sprinted out to a 4-1 start behind strong play from Mindi Beckstrom and Emilie Andersen. The Mustangs have fallen back to earth a little bit after losses to the Wildcats and Sky View, but offer plenty of potential to stir the pot with a defense that has allowed only one goal per game.


E-mail: jcoon@desnews.com