No Task Too Small: Matt Moore's Growth into a Mature Leader

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES


There seems to be no detail too small to escape the attention of Virginia attackman Matt Moore this season.

Sometimes it involves diving after loose balls to save possession even with a lopsided advantage. More often, it is putting to use a better understanding of how to effectively lead.

And on occasion, it means taking out the trash, like on Virginia’s bus trip to Washington en route to a first-round game at Brown last week.

“He’s the last one off and he has the two bags of garbage,” Tiffany said. “I would have thought that the bus driver, when he takes the bus back to the station, they would just throw those ways. He’s looking for garbage cans outside D.C. Reagan Airport. In his mind, this is the right way to leave that bus — not only no garbage on the floor, but no garbage, period.”

Moore has cleaned up in more ways than one in his fifth year with the Cavaliers (12-3), who meet top-seeded Maryland (15-0) in Sunday’s NCAA quarterfinal in Columbus, Ohio.

For a guy who already owns a pair of championship rings, there probably wasn’t much to prove on the field this season. And in truth, his decision to take advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA for everyone who lost the back end of the 2020 season was fueled largely by academic reasons.

After the start of the pandemic, Moore decided he would pursue a two-year master’s program at Virginia’s Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy that covered his senior year as an undergraduate and a postgraduate year. When the NCAA’s blanket waiver came, it made sense to play another year since he already was planning to be on campus.

It also, it turns out, proved an opportunity to mature as he figured out what sort of place he held in the Cavaliers’ program.

“I think something I’ve really learned this year is just emotional intelligence — how to come at people,” Moore said. “Is the best way to yell at them? Probably not. That’s a hard thing to understand, especially with freshmen coming in. Is it the best way to yell at him or the best way to talk to him one-on-one or go to coach or is it to say, ‘You look up to this senior. How about I go to this senior and have the senior talk to him?’ It’s kind of like a puzzle, and you have to put it together.”

Much of that occurred off the field, but there’s also a clear improvement on the field as well. A year ago, Moore had 33 goals and 34 assists but also shot 22.9 percent while spraying 8.5 shots per game. That included a 4 of 27 showing in the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament before depositing four goals on seven shots in the 17-16 title game defeat of Maryland.







This year, Moore has 25 goals and 25 assists and is shooting a career-high 31.3 percent while averaging 6.7 shots.

“He’s just really understanding how to get his teammates involved in the game,” Tiffany said. “Last year, sure, there’s an advantage to Michael Jordan shooting the ball every time you go down the court, but if you want to get the entire team involved, getting everyone more touches and distributing the ball, you’re going to create a stronger team collective, and that’s what he’s done. I think he understands that better as a leader and as a captain.”

Much of it, too, stems from the emergence of attackman Connor Shellenberger into a full-fledged star in last year’s NCAA tournament. He’s Virginia’s table setter and leads the team in assists (44) and points (76).

Yet Shellenberger is also more likely to assert himself as a sophomore than in his first year playing for the Cavaliers.

“I’ve played within my role this year, and I think that’s great,” Moore said. “I’ve realized that to be successful, you have to play your role. My role really isn’t stated, but I understood we have the best player in the world on our team. You just kind of let him go to work and work with him rather than looking at him and saying, ‘I want to be that guy.’ Just work together.”

Moore has battled injuries this season, missing three games and spending more time in the training room than he’d prefer. Yet it’s precisely because of those issues that he’s responsible for what Tiffany described earlier this month as his favorite play of Virginia’s season.

The Cavaliers were already up eight at Syracuse on April 23 when Moore dove toward the sideline for a carom of a shot, slipping past a Syracuse defender who was jogging toward the ball. Virginia retained possession and proceeded to score an extra-man goal moments later.

“For somebody like Matt, just understand we have to put everything on the line here — there’s really no days off at that point in the season,” attackman Payton Cormier said. “We were in a spot where we needed every single possession that we could get. It was pretty important coming off of losses and having a couple rough patches. I think Matt showed to a lot more than just our team that we’re going to do what takes to make ourselves successful.”

Moore’s place in Virginia’s lacrosse lore is secure. He scored twice in last week’s 17-10 defeat of Brown, tying Michael Watson for second in program history with 142 career goals. His 41 postseason points is tied for the fourth-most ever for a Cavalier, putting him in a top five with Steele Stanwick, Tim Whitely, Matt Ward and Danny Glading.

It’s the lessons he put to use this year, and their potential long-term impact at Virginia after his career, that could be just as important for the Cavaliers’ self-appointed garbage man.

“The hierarchy of sports, I think it’s the downfall of the guys who just go out there and play,” Moore said. “They don’t pick up the balls, they don’t do anything for the team. They do it just to score goals. It’s like a cancer to a team. Little things like taking the trash out, and say a freshman saw that. He knows when he’s that age, he'll do that as well. It’s not just the freshmen taking it out. It’s everyone on the team helping out.”

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