University of Virginia athletics photographer Matt Riley shares his most memorable photos and reflects back on 2020.
Adjusting to a New Normal: Going from thousands of screaming fans at John Paul Jones Arena to cardboard cutouts has been one of the many differences of sports in a pandemic.
A fresh beginning: A snow squall on Jan. 7 to blanket Charlottesville and UVA with a brief, but picturesque start to the new year.
The Hoo-nicorn from Above: I love shooting from the catwalk at JPJ for a different perspective, but usually only have few minutes to shoot once I get up there because of everything else that needs to be photographed during a game. So, it’s always a bonus when you can capture an incredible moment from a new angle like this dunk by Jay Huff.
Cavman Light Painting: A slow shutter created this art of Cavman during pregame introductions at JPJ. When shooting dozens of games, it’s nice to try new things from time to time for a different look.
A Legend Says Goodbye: After a decisive victory on senior day, wrestling All-American Jack Mueller said goodbye to Mem Gym and the mat he called home and dominated for four years.
Ready in Red: Mamadi Diakite emerges focused from the locker room at JPJ. Inspired by some NFL photographers I admire and in an effort for a different look behind the scenes, I added an orange gel on a flash to get this effect.
Cavalier Comeback: Down 22 points in the second half, UVA women’s hoops stormed back to take down the Miami Hurricanes.
A Paige Ahead of the Rest: All-American Paige Madden was dominant in the pool again in 2020. This photo looks like it’s a close race, but she’s actually a lap ahead.
Kihei Calls Game: With two seconds remaining and the game tied at 53-53, Kihei Clark delivered a clutch three to give the Cavaliers a victory in Blacksburg. These images are contenders for my favorites of 2020 because of the ball leaving his hand and the jubilant celebration that followed to silence the rival crowd at Cassell Coliseum.
Stoked for the Season: Men’s tennis doubles partners Carl Soderlund and Matt Lord had some fun during photo day. I love when student-athletes bring energy to the studio.
Serving Up Reflections: Squash is challenging to shoot because of the configuration of the courts and the walls and glass, but this reflection of Emma Jinks, the team’s No. 1 player, before a serve was one of my favorites from the year.
Getting Into the Swing of Things: This wasn’t meant to be a photo used as a photo, but I love the composition and the tone of the image. We had the idea to makes GIFs of the players’ swings using still images at 20 frames per second on the Sony A9 camera. Out of hundreds of frames of the men’s golfers, this shot of Andrew Orischak stood out to my eye.
The Champs Return: The 2019 NCAA Champs returned to the field after raising the championship flag at Klöckner Stadium. The Hoos topped Loyola 12-9 to open the 2020 campaign.
Captured Moments: There’s nothing better than capturing a moment of joy and emotion, which is why this photo of UVA wrestling head coach Steve Garland jumping into the arms of Jack Mueller after a pin vs. Virginia Tech at John Paul Jones Arena ranks near the top of my favorite images of 2020.
Bench Celebrations: Through the years there have been some great bench celebration photos from UVA basketball games, and this spontaneous meditation celebration is no exception. I also love that the players look for me on the baseline after big plays.
Playing with Light: Shooting portraits in the studio and experimenting with light over the years has led to some dynamic images. This setup on the blue wall in the lobby of John Paul Jones Arena lit with a backlight on the floor and another strobe with an orange gel created a colorful and dramatic look for this women’s lacrosse shoot.
A Shoot in the Bubble: Before the term bubble became the norm in the sports world, we shot some portraits for the track poster inside the indoor bubble the team practices in. The photos came out better than imagined inside the bubble with so many different things in the background to work around.
Dancing From the Ceiling: On another adventure to the catwalk at JPJ, I snagged this shot of the dance team during a timeout. I love the symmetry in the image, the hair swinging, the progression of the turns from left to right and of course the V Sabre to frame it all up.
Projecting Success: Before heading into postseason, I shot some portraits for the swimming team using a projected V Sabre as the only light source for use on social media as they prepared for the NCAA Championships. The women, led by first-year standout Kate Douglass were one of the favorites heading into competition before it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Going Out in Style: After a senior day victory over Louisville, Mamadi Diakite and Braxton Key exit the floor at JPJ one last time. This photo was one of our top posts on social media in 2020.
Uniform Combinations: This shoot came together in a day to quickly showcase the different UVA Baseball uniform combos before the start of the season. I love the pop of color against the industrial look of the stadium and overcast sky.
A Beautiful New Ballpark: The Palmer Park era officially began for the UVA Softball program in 2020. It is truly an amazing facility and I can’t wait to get back out there in 2021 to watch the exciting growth of the program.
National Rookie of the Year: First-Year standout Natasha Subash hits a backhand volley at Snyder Tennis Center. Subash was the ITA National Rookie of the Year and for someone who learned how to photograph sports by shooting a lot of tennis, I appreciate her photogenic backhands.
Bubble Bursting: We had no idea in the coming hours, days and weeks the the term bubble would become prominent in the sports world as most professional leagues adopted ‘bubble’ concepts to attempt to resume playing safely during a pandemic. This photo was taken hours before the sports world and UVA began shutting down and essentially bursting the bubble of normal life as we all knew it before COVID-19.
The Final Game: I’m not sure any of us anticipated this would be the final game for any sport for UVA in the Spring of 2020. This matinee ‘Field Trip Day’ game was a 4-3 UVA Baseball win over UMASS Lowell. Leaving Disharoon Park, I remember feeling like things could shutdown, but I had no idea it would for months.
One Last Shoot: This group shot of the UVA Rowing senior class would be the last UVA athletics photo I would take for months due to the pandemic.
Virtual Portrait Series: Trying to get creative was essential during work from home during the pandemic and trying to figure out ways to produce engaging content. Setting up a mini studio with UVA props from around the house in my dining room, I Facetimed with some of our fall sport student-athletes and did a mini photo shoot through the phone.
A New Normal: As we began to bring student-athletes back to Grounds over the summer, it was hard to know what to expect. My first shoot in months was a simple headshot shoot with the volleyball first-years. After the headshots they all wanted a masked photo in their jerseys. It was the first photograph I had taken of anyone wearing a mask and it was striking when I turned it to black and white.
Public Service Announcement: I assisted University photographer and good friend Sanjay Suchak in shooting masked portraits of different coaches and student-athletes for use in mask-wearing images for social media campaigns and marketing collateral. This shot of head men’s soccer coach George Gelnovatch was my favorite. No non-sense, strong and convincing. Wear your mask.
And We’re Back!!!: Our first official home event of the Fall during the pandemic was a women’s soccer win over Virginia Tech! It was nice to do something that felt almost normal again. From a photo standpoint, this goal celebration from Diana Ordonez quickly made me realize there were some challenges to shooting with a mask on, like the viewfinder fogging up. Luckily I was able to make this image before I couldn’t see anything at all.
Surreal: The return to Scott Stadium was certainly strange. I miss the pageantry and energy that a full stadium brings. It was eerily quiet at times, but as the season progressed it began to feel more normal. Photographing pandemic football allowed for some different angles that under normal times we wouldn’t get so that was a plus.
QB1: This portrait of new starting quarterback Brennan Armstrong is one of my favorite shots of the year.
A Dazzling Debut: Madison Morey garnered ACC Freshman of the Week honors as the libero had 20 digs in her debut as the volleyball team opened its season with a 3-0 sweep of the Citadel.
Run, Run Rohann: In amazing fashion, senior Rohann Asfaw won three consecutive races to lead the men’s cross country team this fall.
Dramatic Finishes: There was plenty of late game drama at Klöckner this fall with golden goals and overtime. This celebratory shot came with just over a minute left after a penalty kick from Phillip Horton to beat Louisville 2-1.
Personal Reflection: I tried shooting the team running onto the field from the far end zone, but little did I know the most powerful image would come after the team ran out. D’Angelo Amos knelt for a quick prayer right in front of me and it ended up being one of my favorite images of the year.
Halloween Huddle: This was an unexpected fun shot between sets at volleyball right before Halloween as Josie Williams sported some fun glasses to make this shot unique.
New Views: One thing the pandemic did provide was a chance to see things differently. With access limited in some venues, it gave the chance to try new perspectives like this angle at field hockey from behind the goal next to construction going on at the Training Grounds.
Our Leader: This might be my favorite shot of the pandemic. Director of Athletics Carla Williams sitting alone atop an empty section at Scott Stadium. All the V Sabre seats align and frame up our leader during a rainy afternoon game.
Standing Out: Freshman Lavel Davis Junior burst onto the scene for UVA Football as the first-year was named ACC Receiver and Rookie of the Week after becoming the first Cavalier to record 100+ receiving yards in their collegiate debut when he caught four balls for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opening win against Duke. This was a striking shot to me. I always like how the guys look for me to pose before games.
Football Favorites: The 2020 football season provided ample memories and striking images. Here is a collection of some of my favorites.
Returning to JPJ: Shot from the upper deck at John Paul Jones Arena with 400mm lens, this shot of Tomas Woldetensae masked up was my favorite from the first practice of the men’s basketball season.
Fall Morning on the Rivanna: I went out a couple of times with the rowing team during practice and was amazed at how disciplined they were to be able to row with masks on. I loved this photo with the look of determination and the fall foliage in the background.
Back at Birdwood: I got the opportunity to photograph a couple of practice rounds with the women’s golf team at the newly renovated Birdwood Golf Course. The course is amazing and spending afternoons shooting golf was a nice escape during the pandemic.
Favorite Photo Shoot: We did a full day of portraits with the softball team at Palmer Park to showcase the facility and get plenty of content for the upcoming season. It was a long day, but the results turned out great.
Strike a Pose: This striking shot of Amandine Toi was one of my favorite portraits of the year. The orange uniform and the colors of the balls and ball rack really make it pop on the white backdrop.
Football Senior Day: Senior Day at Scott Stadium looked different this year for sure, but without the families on the field it provided the opportunity for this group photo of the senior class that we’ve never been able to do before.
Social Justice: Part of the story in 2020 revolved around social justice and sparked plenty of conversation and debate. It also provided powerful imagery.
2020 Sports in a Photo: This photo sums up 2020, sanitizer, gloves, masks, etc.