University of Virginia athletics photographer Matt Riley reflects back on 2021 through his most memorable photographs.
More of the Same: 2021 felt a lot like 2020 when we started the year with many of the COVID-19 safety protocols still in place. Masks, limited spectators and advanced cleaning procedures were the common theme.
A Blur: Trying to find new ways to photograph the cutouts at John Paul Jones Arena, I used a quick zoom out technique to capture this unique image.
Snow Day! Snow and ice blanketed Grounds in early Februrary. It’s always a special and peaceful time to capture our facilities after a fresh coating of snow. The icy conditions also created a chilly opportunity to shoot the season openers for both lacrosse teams on the lower turf field.
A Thing of Beauty: The Cavaliers added two NCAA National Championships in 2021 in Women’s Swimming and Diving and Men’s Lacrosse. I took the swimming trophy to Grounds for some photos for social media to welcome it to the family.
A Beautiful New Facility: The amazing new outdoor courts at the Virginia Tennis Center at the Boar’s Head Sports Club opened and provides a great new home for both the men’s and women’s programs.
Ouch: Thankfully Logan Michaels was ok after this pitch cracked his helmet. I’ve never seen this happen before and it was crazy and lucky to capture the moment of impact on camera.
Walk-off Win: This shot of Leah Boggs sliding in safely and celebrating a walk-off win for the softball team was one of my favorite sequences of the year. The dust and the emotion come together for a dynamic image.
Seeing Double: I love shooting tennis. I learned how to shoot sports by shooting tennis in college and have an appreciation for the art that can be made during match. After i get the standard shots I’m looking for during an event, tennis provides a great opportunity to play with in-camera multiple exposures or slow shutters to create a different type of dynamic image.
Taking the Plunge: Director of Athletics Carla Williams and University President Jim Ryan met the women’s swimming and diving team at the AFC to congratulate them on their national championship when they returned to Grounds and jumped in the pool fully clothed to celebrate. This has become tradition after championship meets.
The Glove Toss: There was perhaps no bigger personality for UVA Athletics in 2021 than baseball closer Stephen Schoch. I was just shooting the postgame celebration of a win and had no clue he was going to chuck his glove into left field. This was one of many Schoch signature moments.
Orange & Blue: The colors in this photo make it one of my favorites of the year. How did it happen? Using a telephoto lens, I was trying to shoot through the blue and orange sleeve on rowing coach Kevin Sauer’s wife Barb’s jacket to create this visual illusion while riding on the launch. After several frames, I was able to get the look I wanted and it created a vibrant shot.
The Honor of Honors: One of my favorite things to do during the year is shoot grad portraits and capture the joy and spirit of graduation.
Soaking It All In: This photo of Ian Laviano celebrating on the field immediately after men’s lacrosse won the national championship is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. After a trying year, the culmination of emotions feels like it is captured in this moment of joy. The photo looks peaceful even though a mob of Hoos is celebrating just to the right.
OmaHoos: The Cavalier baseball team made it back to the College World Series in Omaha for the first time since 2015 and these are a few of my favorite shots from the season.
QB1: I had a little extra time with quarterback Brennan Armstrong during our preseason photoshoot and I wanted to try something different so I took him to the new V Sabre graphic installed outside of the dining hall in JPJ for a few photos and a fresh look.
Specialty Shoots: Every summer I take thousands of portraits in studio on a white backdrop with our student-athletes as they return to Grounds. Some of the photos stand out more than others. Diana Ordonez had an amazing season as the ACC Offensive Player of the Year and the No. 2 overall pick in the NWSL Draft, and these images were in regular rotation across social media.
A New Era: I love this shot of UVA Volleyball celebrating a hard-fought win to start the season in front of a packed house at Mem Gym. The Hoos ushered in a new era under head coach Shannon Wells.
They’re BACK! Perhaps the best thing that happened in 2021 was getting the Wahoo faithful back in the stands at Scott Stadium. It felt like football again having the roar of the crowd and the pageantry that surrounds the game in the stands and on the field.
Salute: These two images had a profound impact. The flag with the soldiers’ boots on 9/11 and Cavman saluting the jets flying over on Military Appreciation Day. Both scenarios also present challenges to shoot. The giant flag is difficult to get a good angle while on-field and flyovers are tough because they happen so quickly. Having Cavman in the foreground provided a different perspective.
Shake it like a…: I found an old Polaroid camera in a supply closet and decided to try it out on a football road trip to Miami and loved the challenge and the results.
Women’s Soccer Favorites: The ACC Regular Season champs spent a lot of time ranked No. 1 in 2021 and I spent a lot of time at Klöckner Stadium photographing their games. I could always count on them hamming it up for the camera during introductions and got familiar with some of their pregame rituals which it made it a fun group to shoot. There were also a lot of goals to celebrate this year!
Pure Joy: This shot of Mia Barnett shortly after winning her first collegiate race was one of my favorite shots of the year!
Thurday’s Heroes: Every Thursday during the season, UVA Football brings smiles to the faces of kids and families that have endured medical hardships and brings them to practice as a part of the team.
No Boundaries: Each year the wrestling team runs up the mountain at Humpback Rocks as part of their training. We decided to do a photoshoot at the top like we did a decade ago for the poster. The hike up is challenging, but the reward at the end is amazing!
Are You Not Entertained?! Doing his best Gladiator impersonation, this is one of my favorite shots in a record-breaking season for quarterback Brennan Armstrong
Lights, Camera, Action: Photo day for women’s basketball was epic at the Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville.
Bronco Reflected: Getting ready to board the flight to BYU, a puddle created a great opportunity for reflection photos and this shot of coach Bronco Mendenhall is one of my favorites of the year. This is one of my favorite shots of Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall during his tenure at UVA.
Football Favorites: From epic comebacks and celebrations to amazing catches there were some incredible images from the 2021 season!
No. 300: UVA Men’s Basketball head coach Tony Bennett won his 300th game at the helm of the Cavaliers in November. This shot pregame is right before introductions and I happened to be right next to the bench. In the thousands of photos of coach Bennett over the years, this is definitely an angle I’ve never shot before.
Fall Colors: The foliage was extra vibrant this Fall in Charlottesville and made for some nice venue shots.
Bling, Bling: Celebrating the national champion women’s swimming and diving team with a banner raising and ring ceremony.
A Rowdy Return: In a dual meet with Texas, the AFC was rocking as alumni returned for the championship banner raising ceremony and a spirited meet with the Longhorns. Shooting swimming is certainly near the top of my list of favorite sports to shoot because of the energy and chances for dynamic imagery.
The Last Ride: Mounted Cavalier Kim Kirschnick saddled up for the last time at Scott Stadium this year after 20 seasons as the famed Cavalier on horseback leading the football team out of the tunnel.
An Epic Shoot: For the men’s basketball photoshoot we had an idea to use a backdrop with a lot of UVA branding on it. With the help of my intern Olivia Taylor, our graphic designer Jack Ridenour and social video director Steven Leonard, we spent over two days building this back drop and the results were well worth it.
View from Above: I always love shooting from the catwalk at JPJ and this simple image with a single strobe and the women’s basketball huddle with the V Sabre on the court is easily one of my favorite shots of the year.
Wahoo Welcome: This is my favorite shot from hundreds during the introductory press conference of new head football coach Tony Elliott. I’m really looking forward to working with Coach Elliott and seeing his vision for the football program.
Here’s to 2022: Thank you for following along! Here’s to a prosperous New Year and hopefully more amazing images. Wahoowa & Go Hoos!