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Shoot to Thrill

The highlight reel of UVA sports photographer Matt Riley

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.”