ERIE — It wasn't a decision that Erie's Alicia Cardenas wanted to make, but more like one that she needed to.
After an uber successful first season with the Tigers in 2016 as a freshman, Cardenas did what she needed to do to make sure her soccer career extended past her senior year in high school.
She skipped her sophomore season with the Tigers and opted to stay with her club team at FC Boulder and play a traveling spring season that was under the watchful eye of many a college coach in the country.
"There was a lot of college exposure," she said. "I just wanted to get a head of the recruiting process."
And, boy, did she ever.
Cardenas has verbally committed to the University of Nebraska for the fall of 2019 and in doing so has also committed her time back to her high school team.
"I always wanted to come back and, believe me, I really wanted to do it last year, just to have that opportunity to play with all my friends," said Cardenas, who scored 18 goals and had 14 assists in Erie's 2016 season in which the Tigers went 12-4. "I'm really happy I'm doing it again."
And the stress that comes with trying to impress the limited number of people in the crowd of a club game is gone, and the joy of playing in front of friends and classmates with a goal of building a program that is only in its fifth year makes the game more enjoyable.
"It's more about working on yourself and having fun while you do it," Cardenas said. "And it's a lot more fun to get to know different people and not just the same 16 people every year."
A dynamic on-the-ball talent, Cardenas is one of the those players that has the ability to make everyone around her better.
And that will be a huge asset to a Tigers team that, while slowly gaining experience, is still at its core very young.
First year Erie coach Jeff Vigil has had the chance to see Cardenas at work for the past few weeks and is eager for her to put her stamp on the latest Tigers team.
"I didn't know when I got the job that she was going to be fully bought, but after spending a little over a month with the girls, she has been great. Great attitude, great work ethic and really good with the less experienced kids," Vigil said. "She's not a prima donna, which is very refreshing.
"She is very attack-minded and she is going to be a handful for anybody and, luckily for us, we've got kids around her that are going to give her some room and some space to work."
The Tigers have speed to burn up top in returning forwards Alison McNeal, McKenna Harrington and Mariah Veve as well as an experienced core of midfielders including Shuana Xiong and Dana Johnson.
Throw in talented newcomers like Macie Fambrough, Madison Tallman, Parker Johnson, Emma Maiocco and Courtney Hull and Vigil has all the pieces in place to make the Tigers a legitimate threat in what could turn out to be a much improved Tri-Valley League.
"We are not trying to ease our way into things. We want to play and we want to play with the best and make some noise," said Vigil, whose team opens the season on Thursday night at home against Centaurus. "In Class 4A, the top tier is obviously very good and can compete with anybody, but then you have the middle of the pack and I'd like to break in to that elite group sooner rather than later."