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All in the Family
by Raj Sagar

It starts with something as simple as a number. For players in each and every sport, their number has some sort of meaning. For Virginia midfielder Jack Riley, the meaning is simple: family.

“Ten was the number both my mom and dad wore in high school,” Riley said. “My mom played basketball and my dad played football. When it came time for me to pick my number, and ten was available, I thought it would be cool to continue the tradition.”

Riley first picked up a lacrosse stick due purely to persuasion from whom else, but his family.

“I started playing because my older cousins all played. Every time I was with them, we would at least go toss the ball around. One of my first memories of the game is when I was in fifth grade, and we were all playing, and I was the only one who couldn’t cradle.”

Riley has since learned to cradle, and is known mainly for his fundamental skill set. His “back-to-basics” style of play has made him extremely successful as a member of Virginia’s first two midfields throughout his career. Last season he finished 15 goals and four assists and is currently among the midfield leaders in career goals and assists with 34 goals and 14 assists.

Even Riley’s nickname is a testament to how fundamental his game is. Riley, also known as The Hammer’, is known for his extremely hard shot. Many players agree the prettiest goals are scored up high, however it’s not always the best percentage shot. Riley is a master of hammering shots into the ground, near the bottom of the net. Although this might not be the most glamorous way to score, it is the highest percentage, and purely fundamental.

“He’s got a great fundamental stroke,” said Virginia Coach Dom Starsia. “Guys always joke when he winds up, and make sounds because they just assume the ball’s going to wind up in the back of the net. He just extends his arms a little bit and he’s got a great overhand shot.”

Being a senior on this year’s Virginia team, Riley has finally come into a position of leadership. He doesn’t provide leadership in the conventional way, however. Known for being one of the quiet ones in the locker room, Riley is the quintessential illustration of leading by example.

“He’s been hurt so many different times during the course of his career, yet he comes out there every day and gives you his all without any moaning and groaning about his injured ankle or his injured wrist or his injured knee or whatever else,” said Starsia. “The old saying is that the silent example is the best one to learn by, and Jack provides that. He’s a wonderful guy that always does his job to the utmost of his ability. He’s always played an important role in this program.”

Away from the field, Riley has been more than an outstanding member of the community, since a young age. Rooted in his selfless nature, Riley has always found ways to help those less fortunate then himself. When he was in high school he helped at a soup kitchen near their home in Ridgewood, N.J.

“It was something that was both rewarding for me, as well as a positive way to spend my time,” Riley said. “During Christmas, through our church I would help out at a kitchen in the neighborhood. We would also take our extra Ridgewood lacrosse shirts from our high school team and give them out. It was very rewarding to be able to bring some sort of happiness to other people. Although it was only a few hours, I knew I was making a positive impact on the community.”

Just as Riley was introduced to lacrosse by older relatives, he now is working to pass the game on to his seven-year-old nephew.

“Whenever I am home, my nephew, Matthew, and I go out in the back yard and throw the ball around,” Riley said. “Now that he’s gotten a little bit older, we can do a few more advanced things, and it’s great to see him so eager to learn. I gave him a few Virginia lacrosse shirts and things, and he wears them everywhere. It reminds me of when I first started playing, and how fortunate I was to have my older relatives to introduce me to the game.”

Playing lacrosse at UVa Riley has meshed with a group of players who have become so close, they are nearly brothers. When Jack’s father, John, passed away, his teammates and coaches all were in attendance at the funeral.

“It was amazing to have the support of all my teammates and coaches during what was a difficult time for me,” Riley said. “These guys are amazing; they are like family to me.”

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