In the Trenches: Tumolo and All-Star Staff Have Army on the Rise

Brigid Duffy wakes up at 6:30 a.m. Three hours before Michelle Tumolo reaches her office, West Point is bustling, the sun nearly fully risen in the early March sky.

First, cadets assemble for morning formation. Then a quick breakfast. Then classes from 7:40 to noon until the entire population of the U.S. Military Academy — more than 4,500 cadets — converges on the mess hall for lunch. Then it’s back to class until 3:30. Lacrosse from 3:45-5:45. A quick lift or a bite to eat after. Back in the dorms around 7:30 for homework.

Go to sleep. Rinse, repeat.

“It’s something that we’ve grown accustomed to, just being tired and having to deal with it,” said Duffy, a plebe.

Few — if any — can handle the rigors of such a schedule like Army athletes. Toughness courses through their veins. That’s why last weekend, when snow fell diagonally and blanketed the Michie Stadium turf, the Black Knights didn’t bat an eye. They certainly didn’t bat an eye at their opponent, either. Just because then-No. 8 Rutgers had come to town, that didn’t mean anything different for the suddenly on-the-radar program.

The next 60 minutes were a defensive clinic. Lacey Bartholomay, the junior goalie who only last year burst onto the scene, made 12 saves. Army shot out of a cannon with five unanswered goals and then took a 7-1 lead after Kathleen Sullivan found Duffy for another. Even when Rutgers cut it to 7-4 entering the final quarter, Army responded with the next two.

A 10-5 win meant Army had knocked off its highest-ranked opponent ever. It also meant the Black Knights were 4-0. And with that came increased attention — and expectations.

“When you have greatness around you, you can’t not be great.”

— Michelle Tumolo

None of that shakes the Black Knights. The cadets are used to doing the work when no one’s watching anyway. Ironically, during the team breakfast leading into Rutgers, the defensive unit spoke about focusing on what they could control.

The stingy group — Bartholomay, Evelyn Pickett, Malina Hatton, Cathleen Parker, Lexi Patterson and Sidney Weigand — were Tumolo’s “Game Changers of the Game” against Marist just three days earlier. Army won that game 21-5 and forced the Red Foxes into 22 turnovers. It was another snowy mess.

As each player got up to speak, she echoed the teachings of Tumolo. “Be all you can be.” That’s also the slogan the Army used in recruitment during the 1980s and 90s, which the branch of the Armed Forces brought back in 2023. How fitting.

“They’re an incredible group of young women,” Tumolo said. “They are leaders at the most prestigious leadership academy in the world.”

Leaders learn from leaders, though, and Tumolo has assembled the type of staff young girls would dream of being around.

Katrina Dowd, Tumolo’s best friend and someone she praises at every opportunity she finds, is the headliner. As a player, Dowd won three consecutive national championships at Northwestern. She was then on staff for North Carolina’s national titles in 2013 and 2016.

A 2013 world champion with the U.S. national team and a 2019 WPLL All-Star, Dowd continues to compete at a high level at age 34. She led the Irish national team with 36 points in eight games during the 2022 World Lacrosse Women’s Championship last summer at Towson.

“I hired someone that has won five national championships — three as a player, two as a coach,” Tumolo said. “And she’s my best friend. We work well together. She knows how to take a team to another level. Hiring her was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Then there’s Ella Simkins, an Athletes Unlimited pro and stalwart on Syracuse defenses that ranked at or near the top of the country from 2017-21. In 2021, she set Syracuse’s single-season record for caused turnovers (35) and helped the Orange reach the national title game for the first time since 2014.

It gets even better. Caylee Waters, fresh off an NCAA title as a staff member at North Carolina, joined Army as a volunteer assistant. A 2016 national champion as a player at UNC, Waters was also part of a 1-2 goalie punch with Liz Hogan that backstopped the U.S. to a gold medal this past summer.

Lest we forget Tumolo, the crafty attacker most college players of today idolized growing up. A Tewaaraton Award finalist in 2012 and a gold medalist on the 2017 U.S. team, Tumolo is a proven winner.

All told, that’s seven national championships, three gold medals and countless other accolades on staff.

“When you have greatness around you, you can’t not be great,” Tumolo said.


Michelle Tumolo is in her second season as Army's head coach.

But don’t mistake their endless talent — which they often showcase in drills against their players — for a lack of coaching chops. They push the Black Knights hard in practice and won’t ask their players to do anything they wouldn’t do themselves.

Exhibit A: At 5:30 a.m. before Tumolo’s first practice as head coach last season, she laced up her cleats and did the entire conditioning circuit with the team. Tumolo jokes that she hasn’t done that since, but she’s still prone to picking up a stick and getting in on the offensive drills. She was on the scout team that helped Bartholomay prepare for Rutgers. Pickett had to guard her the entire time. Not a bad warmup for the real thing.

“I’m all about the team,” Tumolo said. “I want to be a coach that understands what they’re going through. I’m not just going to sit there and blow a whistle. I want to be in the trenches with them.”

Tumolo is a fixture on the team’s Instagram page, celebrating each player’s success on and off the field. Her team’s biggest cheerleader, Tumolo has taken pride in learning the lingo. West Point cadets don’t call it campus. It’s called “post,” and she lives there, about a mile from the field. She’s completely immersed in the world.

But then there’s understanding the countless other things that Army student-athletes must do that other Division I athletes don’t. Things her teams at Wagner, where she coached the Seahawks to a conference championship and NCAA tournament berth in 2019, didn’t have to contend with.

“Make sure you check our Instagram,” Tumolo said during the interview for this story. “Sofia Micklovic passed her combatives final. It’s awesome.”

And there was Micklovic, delivering body shots to the opponent before grappling them to the ground. Her mouthguard bulging out of her smile after she induced a tap out.

“They live and breathe toughness,” Tumolo said. “They’re in the Army. They’re going to serve their country. You have to be tough just to come to this place.”