BYU soccer: Fernandes happy at BYU as Cougs open NCAA tourney
Provo • When she was a senior at Woods Cross High School in 2009, there was very little that Niki Fernandes could not do.
After earning all-state honors in both soccer and basketball earlier that school year, Fernandes caught the attention of Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" feature when she struck out 12 in a 4A state softball tournament and then won four events 100 meters, 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and 4 x 100 relay at the state track meet two days later.
Fernandes was one of the most-decorated female athletes in state history, but back then she could not bring herself to attend an in-state school, especially BYU.
"I just had to get out of here," she said.
So the daughter of famed Utah high school coaches Fred and Shara Fernandes signed to play soccer for San Diego State.
Where is she now?
"Yeah, that's going to surprise some people," she laughed.
A senior forward, Fernandes is a big reason why the Cougar women's soccer team (14-4-1) is ranked No. 19 in the nation and recently tied Santa Clara and Portland for the West Coast Conference championship. BYU plays host to Big Sky Conference champion Weber State (10-4-5) in the first round of the 2013 NCAA College Cup women's soccer tournament on Friday at 6 p.m at South Field in Provo.
Fernandes has scored three goals and registered six assists and is third on the team in points, with 12.
"It's been an interesting journey, an interesting career," Fernandes said. "I had quite the change of heart."
So has her family.
Fred Fernandes is a Utah State guy through and through, having starred on the football field for the Aggies before becoming a highly successful football coach at Northridge, Woods Cross and Roy high schools. Shara Fernandes played soccer for Weber State before becoming an outstanding youth soccer coach and then prep coach at Northridge.
"Yeah, dad is not a big BYU fan," Niki Fernandes said after a practice last week at Haws Field, just west of BYU's indoor practice facility. "But he loves it here, too. He's a BYU soccer fan. Put it that way. And so is the rest of my family."
BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood said the Cougars were very interested when Fernandes was "a fantastic player coming out of high school," but Fernandes didn't reciprocate the interest so BYU never offered her a scholarship. Still, Rockwood put the word out that if Fernandes ever changed her mind, "we would always have a spot for her."
As a freshman, Fernandes led the Aztecs in assists, was named Mountain West Conference Player of the Week on Oct. 19, 2009 and made the All-MWC first team and all-tournament team. But she missed her family, Utah's mountains and people who cared about her for more than what she could do on a soccer field, so she told SDSU's coaches she was leaving after her freshman year.
SDSU wouldn't release her to contact other schools, so Fernandes attended Salt Lake Community College for a year, did not play soccer, and got her associates degree before getting in touch with BYU coaches to see if they were still interested.
Um, yes, they were.
"I wanted to come to BYU because I knew a lot of the girls, and I have grown up playing with them and against them pretty much my whole life," Fernandes said. "The soccer program was really great. Obviously the religious aspect was a big reason, and just the feelings I got when I came on campus."
Rockwood said Fernandes' speed and quickness on the field, and her team-first attitude off it, set her apart.
"Niki is very concerned, always concerned, about her teammates," Rockwood said. "She is very much a team player. She wants what is best for our team. The couple of years where she has had to sit back and not be a part of it as much as she would like, she still has had a great influence on her teammates, trying to keep positive energy going. â¦ She has obviously been a great addition for us."
Even if it was delayed a few years.
NCAA College Cup women's soccer tournament
P Friday's First Round Game, at BYU's South Field, Provo
• BYU (14-4-1) vs. Weber State (10-4-5), 5 p.m.
TV • BYUtv
Niki Fernandes file
• Senior soccer star played freshman season at San Diego State before transferring to SLCC and then BYU
• Excelled in four sports at Woods Cross and Northridge high schools: soccer, track, softball and basketball
• Featured in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" on July 13, 2009, for her multi-sport exploits in high school
• Daughter of famed Utah high school football coach Fred Fernandes