When you graduate from the Gary Gait school of lacrosse, as Michelle Tumolo did, even the most mundane exercises require a touch of ingenuity.

The irony that Tumolo honed her craft under the tutelage of a Canadian is not lost on the 10-year U.S. national team veteran. Then again, Gait, her coach at Syracuse, is widely considered the greatest player ever to wield a lacrosse stick.

“I learned from the best,” Tumolo said. “He has the most creativity I’ve ever seen in a player.”

So if the way Tumolo slings the ball sidearm off her hip or whips it behind her back reminds you of the original No. 22, that’s no coincidence. Gait’s influence on the current U.S. team extends to Kayla Treanor and Katrina Dowd, who played and coached at Syracuse, respectively. The trio teamed up to put on a fireworks show at Team USA’s Spring Premiere in January 2019.

“I’m an X dodger. I want to be able to see in front of me the play that’s developing, being able to see my teammates cutting before they even cut,” said Tumolo. “Creating wow plays, that’s what the audience wants to see. They like to see behind-the-backs, around-the-worlds, no-look feeds — that’s the stuff I work on to up my game.”

Tumolo’s multi-sport background also shines in the way she plays. She didn’t even pick up a lacrosse stick until she was in high school. Growing up in South Jersey, she played basketball, soccer, hockey, softball and even pickup football. Sometimes she braided her hair with cornrows so she could look like her favorite athlete, Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson.

So if Tumolo looks a little bit like The Answer when she crosses over from her right to left hand, well, that’s no coincidence either.

“I like to tie those sports into lacrosse,” she said.

Tumolo is also the head coach at Wagner after stints as an assistant at Florida, Syracuse and Oregon.

“When I’m talking about creativity, I’m talking about having a dynamic stick, seeing the play before it develops, and creating wow plays,” Tumolo said. “We want to have fun when we’re out there. We want the kids in the audience to be, like, ‘Wow, I want to be like them.’”

Be like Tumolo with these creative approaches to cradling, ground balls and wall ball.

Photo by Casey Valentine

LOOK MA, ONE HAND

Tumolo has seen her share of double-teams. When you see that second defender come flying at you, she suggests resorting to a one-handed cradle. “It’s really hard for them to check it. It might be foul,” she said. “I can get creative from there. I can pass. I can shoot.”

  1. Put the stick in your weak hand.

  2. Grip the stick a little lower than midway up the shaft.

  3. Extend the stick away from the nearest defender.

  4. Use your range of motion to evade the double-team.

  5. Practice cradling one-handed to build wrist strength.

WALL BALL PLAYLIST

Be it on a wall or a bounce-back, start with the basics. But as you warm up and get more comfortable throwing and catching the ball on the rebound, incorporate more creative movements into your routine.

  1. Throw left, catch left.

  2. Throw right, catch right.

  3. Throw left, catch right.

  4. Throw right, catch left.

  5. Repeat steps 1 and 2, but one-handed.

  6. Behind the back: Release the ball off the shoulder opposite your stick. Catch normally.

  7. Around the world: Drop your stick down to your hips, cross your arms and flip the ball around your near shoulder. Catch normally.

  8. Improvise: Tumolo’s latest trick is throw and catch the ball behind-the-back. It’s an incredibly difficult maneuver where she keeps her stick positioned behind her back after releasing the ball, and then attempts to see it back into her stick.

DUST IN THE WIND

If you’ve watched Tumolo play, chances are you’ve seen her use this device to in pursuit of a contested ground ball.

  1. Beat your opponent to the ball.

  2. Instead of scooping through, tap the ball between your legs.

  3. Turn and scoop the now-uncontested ground ball.

“It’s like in basketball, when you jump stop and that defender keeps running, you have an easy layup. Or when you’re dribbling between your legs to protect the ball,” Tumolo said. “The defender on you is going for the ground ball. Tap it through your legs. When they go to check, it won’t be there anymore. They’re dust in the wind.

A version of this article originally appeared in the April 2019 print edition of US Lacrosse Magazine, an exclusive benefit for US Lacrosse members. We appreciate the support of our nonprofit organization through these challenging times by a making a donation or joining/renewing your membership with US Lacrosse. We look forward to continuing to share new and useful resources with the lacrosse community.