Shoot to Thrill

The highlight reel of UVA sports photographer Matt Riley

by Whitelaw Reid

In full uniform, former Virginia soccer star Morgan Brian (Educ ’16) jumped into a swimming pool. While she was in the air, somebody tossed a ball; another person sprayed a hose. A third person threw a bucket of water.

Matt Riley was wading in the pool with his camera. After 20 or so attempts, Riley got the shot he was looking for to promote “the next wave” of UVA athletes.

“It’s probably my favorite photo that I’ve ever taken,” Riley says.

That’s saying a lot; Riley has more than a decade under his belt as a UVA sports photographer.

Virginia Magazine asked Riley to choose some of his favorite shots from his career here. Many were taken during monumental moments, such as ACC and NCAA championships. Riley says the Virginia basketball team’s win over Duke in the 2014 ACC Tournament finals at the Greensboro Coliseum—the Cavaliers’ first championship since 1976—ranks near the top of his list. His photos included Coach Tony Bennett triumphantly standing on a ladder cutting down the net and star Joe Harris getting put in a playful headlock by teammates after being named MVP.

“It brought tears to my eyes while I was on the sideline,” Riley says. “It had been so long.”

Former soccer All-American and current National Team member Morgan Brian (Educ ’16) was one of Riley’s favorite athletes to shoot. “It’s awesome to see all that she has accomplished on the field, but it’s even cooler to know what an amazing human being she is.”
Taken in the evening at Panorama Farms before Coach Bryan Fetzer’s first cross country season in 2012, the silhouette was turned into a team poster. As Fetzer requested, Riley was trying to emphasize the team aspect.
Riley was shooting the coin toss before the Central Michigan game in September when he noticed how “locked in” senior defensive tackle Donte Wilkins (Col ’16) looked. “As he walked closer to me, I saw the reflection of the V Sabre coming into focus,” Riley says, “so I slammed the shutter down and ended up with 10 really nice frames of it.”
The UVA men’s tennis team beat Oklahoma in Tulsa in May to win its second straight NCAA title. “It’s a week of grueling matches that ebb and flow and take you on emotional roller coasters. I’ve now been fortunate enough to witness our men’s team take home three titles after several years of heartbreaks.”
Down to its final out in the ninth inning, the UVA baseball team rallied to beat UC Irvine and advance to the 2011 College World Series. “The reaction of the players rushing the field is incredible, but the poor catcher getting run over makes the photo for me.”
Senior walk-on basketball player Caid Kirven (Educ ’16, not pictured) hit the first 3-pointer of his career last March to cap a Senior Night trouncing of Louisville and set off a wild bench celebration. “Just look at the jubilation from everyone. I get chills looking at it and remembering the moment.”
Prior to a basketball game last season, ice from a winter storm had a mirror effect on John Paul Jones Arena. “Working at a building for more than 10 years, especially one as picturesque as JPJ, you’re going to have thousands of photos of it. … The challenge is to make it look different.”
Riley refers to swimmer Rachel Naurath (Col ’14) as the “underwater comet.” “Underwater shoots are very hard to do, especially if you’ve never done it. I had to learn how to scuba dive and control my breathing while sitting on the bottom of the pool, freezing, with weights strapped around me.”


David Cundiff on 02/26/2018

The b-ball celebration photos is one of my favorite photos of all time.  Capturing that special group including Coach Bennett celebrating was super.  You do not see Tony react like that often and knowing he was reacting to a play by a walkon is special.

Will Gerstmyer on 02/21/2018

Such beauty and such experiences that any sports fan would love to have. I am interested in learning how to peruse your next-level of archive. Please let me know how to see more of your fine work. BS ‘79, MArch ‘83, 4 years Men’s soccer player plus 4 years assistant coach

Dick Laurance on 12/16/2016

Great picture of JPJ. We had a ton of pictures taken during the construction process but your photo is incredible. How could I purchase one?? My number is 973 7729..TNX..

Dick Laurance on 12/16/2016

Great picture of JPJ. We had a ton of pictures taken during the construction process but your photo is incredible. How could I purchase one?? My number is 973 7729..TNX..

Roy Harrill on 12/09/2016

Matt, what a terrific shot of Morgan Brian. Virtually all your photos are outstanding, but this one achieves an all new level of photography! Very creative and artful. We appreciate so much all the amazing work you do for UVa Athletics. Also thanks to Whitey for doing such a great article highlighting our elite photographer. Go Hoos!

Holly Voelker on 12/09/2016

Matt, I have always admired your work since our daughter Kendahl Voelker ‘11 was on the volleyball team. You have an amazing eye that captures the beauty in each athletic sport you cover. Thank you for sharing your inspiring gift!

Jo on 12/07/2016

Matt, you are a WINNER!  Time for UVA to give you a big raise and a big promotion!  Some other school will scoop you up and hire you for the Big Buck, so wake up UVA!  We don’t want to lose Matt Riley!!!

Dennis Lee on 12/05/2016

No one appreciates walk-ons more than their basketball teammates and coaches. I will never forget this moment! Thank you, Matt for your gifted eye. The blend of Coach Bennett’s joy and gratitude could never be captured more beautifully…