The recent Windermere Prep grad has made herself at home as a member of the Northwestern University cheer team.
As Madi Tyrcha walked onto the field at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, the rain fell and the temperature dropped.
The first-year Northwestern cheerleader had expected something a little bit different — something a little warmer and dryer.
But for the next four years, the weather hardly registered on her radar. The excitement of the game in front of her and the constant cheering were the welcome distractions she needed.
It also helped that she was able to travel with the team and watch her Northwestern Wildcats take on Utah in the Holiday Bowl.
“Normally when we travel, there’s a rule in Big 10 that only eight girls are allowed to go on an away game and travel, but for the bowl games — since it’s not Big 10 — everyone gets to go,” said Tyrcha, an 18-year-old freshman and Windermere Prep alum. “I got to bond with a bunch of the other girls that I hadn’t really gotten to know. We got a lot closer over the trip, because we were spending so much time together and the game was just so exciting — we were all hugging; everyone was so happy together.”
The excitement was real for those wearing the purple of Northwestern, as the No. 22 Wildcats made a third-quarter comeback to take a 31-20 win over the 17th-ranked Utes.
It was only Tyrcha’s second game on the road to cheer for the Wildcats. The first was just as memorable as the bowl game, she said.
That was a late-season matchup against the University of Iowa in Iowa City. It was also the coldest game the team had the whole season.
“I want to say that the real field temperature that day was 23 degrees,” said Pam Bonnevier, the Wildcats head cheer coach. “I was checking with her that night and messaging her, ‘You brought extra socks right? You brought cold gear, right?’ Once you’ve been here a couple of years you know how to layer, you know how to prep for those games.”
Tyrcha said she remembers making jokes with teammates about how cold they were going to be all the way to the game. And with the information Bonnevier told them about layering, she did just that as she wore four pairs of pants and three pairs of socks.
“It was so different, yet still so fun,” Tyrcha said. “And then when you’re on the sideline running back and forth, jumping up and down, and then stunting, you work up a sweat — even in 15-degree weather.”
The weather is a far cry from what she had been accustomed to in Florida. The day of that Iowa game (Saturday, Nov. 11), the weather in Windermere was in the 80s.
Although she and her family aren’t originally from Florida, Tyrcha had called Windermere home since 2011, and she learned her passion for cheerleading at Windermere Prep. With a background in dance and gymnastics, it was a natural fit, she said.
“I started my freshman year, and I was super nervous going in, because I had never cheered before,” Tyrcha said. “I went to tryouts not expecting much, and then I made the team and just continued with it for the next four years — I was actually captain my sophomore through my senior year. I loved that team.”
The numerous tips and techniques she picked up on during pep rallies and games all helped Tyrcha to become a better cheerleader. Although there is one lesson she learned from her high-school coach that remains the most important — never stop smiling.
“I got to bond with a bunch of the other girls that I hadn’t really gotten to know. We got a lot closer over the trip, because we were spending so much time together and the game was just so exciting — we were all hugging; everyone was so happy together.”
— Madi Tyrcha
“She was all about smiling all the time and always being happy no matter what is happening during the game,” Tyrcha said. “I think that really helped me going into college, because there are photographers and cameras everywhere, so if there is one point where you happen to not be smiling, that’s where they get you.”
Tyrcha said the transition from high school to college cheerleading has been a challenge. At Northwestern — Tyrcha’s dream school — the cheer team shows up a month before classes to prepare for the upcoming football season.
Unfortunately for Tyrcha, who was moved from base to flyer, an early fall left her with a severe sprain. She still could cheer, but stunting was out for the time being.
Despite the early setback, Tyrcha did everything she could to train and get back into full cheer mode. The hard work and recovery time worked, and now Tyrcha — along with the other 27 members of the cheer team — will turn their attention away from football and toward basketball.
The neuroscience major has plenty of years left to cheer on her team, and there’s no place else she’d rather be than at Northwestern.
“This is my place — just even being on this campus and just being in this environment, I was just so happy,” Tyrcha said. “I do think cheerleading is my favorite part, just because of the bonds I’ve made with girls. There’s two girls on the teams who are my best friends, and I don’t think I would have met them if it weren’t for cheerleading. I love cheerleading.”