ERIE — Caroline Miller was an Elite Clubs National League player in Washington before she fractured her hip in a half dozen places as an 8th-grader.
Since then, Miller has endured the long road to recovery and moved to a new state. Her soccer career has followed a long and winding road over the past few years, and now Miller leads the Erie girls soccer team with 11 goals and eight assists, which puts her first in the state of Colorado with 30 points through the season's first few weeks.
It's also just the Erie girls soccer program's second season. With Miller as the headliner, a powerful influx of talent has allowed the Erie Tigers to avoid some of the growing pains that most dawning programs experience.
Plenty of prep soccer fans didn't even know Erie had a girls soccer team a year ago. So far in 2016, the Tigers are undefeated through four games.
"Last year, we weren't an awful team, we were just really young," Miller said. "This year, we have so much more talent and we have a lot of girls who are willing to work really hard. We were 4-7 at one point last year and we decided we needed to change that. Finishing with more wins than losses last season was huge for us."
The Tigers finished their inaugural season with an 8-7 record and rode that success into the 2016 season. In four games, they've allowed just two goals and have scored 29.
Miller, who played for Niwot in 2014 because Erie did not yet have a team, had 12 goals and five assists her sophomore season. She had 17 goals and 14 assists as a junior for Erie in 2015. Now, she finds herself mentoring a Tigers club that features just three seniors and appears to have a bright future.
The Tigers start four freshmen. After Miller, freshmen Alison McNeal (7), McKenna Harrington (6), Shuanah Xiong (2) and Alicia Cardenas (2) are the next leading goal-scorers. Junior Tiana Linkus has also scored.
"Last year we didn't have a chance to really work with the girls ahead of time," Tigers head coach Dayton Owens said. "We didn't have an indoor season or a chance to do conditioning. So, preparation has been big. We've also got a lot of new players in who are club players so the talent level has gone up."
To be fair, Erie's first four opponents - Berthoud, Peak to Peak, Roosevelt and Fort Lupton - have a combined 4-6-1 record. But the RPI (ratings percentage index) system for playoff selection doesn't come into effect until next season so a win is a win in 2016. But the Tigers know that they still have to finish top three in the competitive Tri-Valley League to reach the Class 4A postseason. They think they can do it.
"The team has improved, we are young and we're doing well," Owens said. "Starting off really well has given them a lot of confidence and it's exciting that we'll be able to keep this group together for a while. The girls have clicked real well together and they've set some high goals for themselves this season."