Although Madison Tiernan has both feet firmly planted on familiar ground, she is living her lofty blue sky dream.
“You know you dream of it, and you tell people you want to be a professional athlete and you make all the sacrifices your whole life and it pays off, but it's still a surreal feeling," Tiernan said. “I wake up and I'm going to work at soccer practice.”
Tiernan, who had her number 13 retired at Eastern High School already, is one of the small number of athletes from a large pool of kids who start playing the game in mini-munchkin leagues around South Jersey who actually gets paid to play the game.
She is playing for Sky Blue FC, which competes in the National Women’s Soccer League.
“To be able to continue playing soccer 18 years later, I've been playing since I've been four, is crazy," Tiernan said. “There are no words to even describe it.”
And, as if playing pro isn’t good enough, Tiernan is playing on familiar ground. Sky Blue FC plays its home games on Yurcak Field on the campus of Rutgers University, which is where Tiernan was a four-year starter for the Scarlet Knights.
“Every week I have overwhelming support," said Tiernan, the daughter of Joe and Robin. “My dad has a huge tailgate every week and so to be able to play in front of your family and friends just makes it that more special.”
Tiernan, who was selected with the No. 24 overall pick in January’s 2017 NWSL College Draft after finishing her splendid career at Rutgers in the fall, made her first professional start two weeks ago against the Orlando Pride in a 2-1 victory.
“That was incredible," Tiernan said. “I didn't realize how awesome it would be to stay in New Jersey and be able to play on my college field again.
“It was just a great experience and something I will remember forever.”
In her last game, on June 3, Sky Blue FC fell to 4-4-1 (13 points) in the NWSL, having its three-game home winning streak snapped by the Portland Thorns FC (4-1-3, 15 points), 2-0.
Tiernan, though, played another strong game for Christy Holly, the Sky Blue FC head coach. Tiernan, a midfielder, made her second consecutive start, and earned the Saker ShopRite Woman of the Match honors.
“It was definitely an adjustment the first couple months and playing on the next level and playing with world-class athletes," Tiernan said. “It's a great learning experience every day. I'm working to get better and to try to help the team.
“To be getting this amount of minutes as a rookie is awesome.”
Success, of course, isn’t new for someone who had their high school number retired. Coming out of Eastern, Tiernan was ranked the No.1 Girls Soccer Player in New Jersey and Region 1.
She lived up to her lofty billing, leaving Rutgers as one of the Scarlet Knights all-time greats by finishing second in shots (275), fifth in game-winning goals (9), sixth in goals (25) and seventh in points (66).
As a senior in the fall, Tiernan paced the Scarlet Knights with 28 points on 11 goals and six assists. She scored twice in the first round NCAA tournament victory over Harvard
Following her final season, she was named to the NSCAA All-Great Lakes Region and All-Big Ten second team honors as a senior.
Tiernan was also named the South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association (SJSCA) College Player of the Year this past season. In high school, she was named the SJSCA Offensive Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012.
Tiernan was named the Vikings Offensive MVP all four years and the team MVP in her junior and senior seasons for coach Jaime McGroarty.
“I was lucky enough to have him coach me for four years soccer in four years softball and I played freshman basketball and he was the coach, so I spent a lot of time with him and we have a strong relationship, and he was always about me about getting better every single day,” said Tiernan, who was a four-time Top 20 All-State selection and was named a three-time Regional All-American (2010, 2011, 2012).
Tiernan, who graduated in May with a degree in American studies, would like to follow McGroarty’s footsteps and become a teacher and coach.
“I do individual sessions with girls one on one and I'm going to be helping out with Rutgers in the fall," Tiernan said. “Coaching is definitely something I want to do, it's something I'm passionate about and I want to stay around the game.”
First, though, Tiernan wants to keep pushing her dream and play for the U.S. national team someday.
“When I was in high school I was in and out of the pool, it's all about being seen," said Tiernan, who played for the prestigious Player Development Academy (PDA). “We're trying to build up my resume. I just got to keep doing what I'm doing that is what the end goal is.”
Tiernan, who is living in New Brunswick, which she says has “become like my new home," doesn’t play again until Saturday since the NWSL had its first international break of the season when Sky Blue FC travels to Portland.
And as Tiernan continues to spread her name, another Tiernan will be making a name for herself in Voorhees.
“My younger sister is 14 and she's going to Eastern next year and she is better than me so look out for her," Tiernan said about Riley.
“And she'll probably wear No. 13, my number is retired but I want my sister to wear it.”