Monday, November 14, 2005

The Greatest Feat I’ve Ever Witnessed
By Ben Valentine

When you’ve been a sports fan as long as I have, and been to a fair number of events, certain things should be easy. Recounting the greatest feat you’ve ever witnessed at one of those events is one of those things. But when Zach asked me to do just that, I found myself drawing an unexpected blank. Something great? At something I had been at? Uh… yeah… I’ll get right on it.

The problem is, for all the professional events I’ve been to, I had not seen anything spectacular by a player, or hell, even a team. No great comebacks. No spectacular performances. There were some memorable moments, but nothing that stood out in my mind as being something worthy of notoriety. Nothing ever had me shaking my head, just saying “wow, that’s incredible.”

Sure, I saw Russ Ortiz throw a one hitter against the Mets. But it was about the worst looking one hitter you’d ever find. He walked the first batter he faced and put guys on all day. I didn’t even realize it had been a no hitter until Jay Payton’s home run in the seventh inning broke it up. Ortiz didn’t even finish the game; he was lifted after that inning. Yeah, that’s about how memorable that game was.

A cherished recollection of mine which I’ve posted before, Mike Piazza’s home run off Mike Hampton back in 2001, was memorable, and an amazing shot to watch. But the greatest feat? Sorry. An August home run, no matter how sweet it felt, cannot be considered the greatest feat by the greatest hitting catcher of all time.

I had been to some Rangers games, but nothing there ever stood out positively, as was the case with the two Nets games and one Jet game I’ve personally attended. And let’s not get into my high school football team. Honestly, if you were listing the lowest feats ever witnessed at a sporting event, I think the 2000 Thunderbirds of Hills East would top the list.

So I was stuck. Pathetically, the greatest performance I had ever witnessed at a professional event was a 1-0 pitcher’s duel between Jae Seo and John Patterson this summer. Somehow, I just couldn’t write about that. Aside from the fact I had done it before, it just wasn’t special. Where was the defining moment? Where was the heart? The emotion? If it had been in the postseason, okay. But not for some August affair at Shea.

So where was I to go? The professional was out, and the amateur sports I had witnessed were less than stellar. Or was it?

NYU isn’t known for its athletics and quite bluntly, the students don’t care about them. But thanks to my friendship with all the guys in the WNYU sports department, I was drawn into the scene, specifically the women’s basketball team. I even went to quite a few games in my senior year. It was a pretty entertaining event, so I encourage any NYU students who read this blog to check them out.

Still was there anything memorable? Not really. Well except one thing.

Last season, the Lady Violets completed what amounted to a disappointing year where they failed to qualify for the Division III NCAA tournament. They got to play in the ECAC Metro one against some local teams, but it was clearly not what the team had in mind. In the first game, NYU had Drew University at Coles Sports Center. It wasn’t a big crowd. My friends weren’t even covering the game on radio. In fact, I was meeting the former sports director of WNYU and play by play voice of the men and women’s team, Aaron Goldhammer and he wasn’t even going to be able to make it on time. There was another sporting event going on in the background which was making far more noise. Everything about this game seemed like an afterthought.

And then NYU guard Kate Higier started shooting.

She shot once from beyond the arc and it went in. Then another, then another. Stop, pop, and drop. Over and over again.

In my opinion, there is nothing more dramatic than a three point shot. It beats a slam dunk hands down. Sure the dunk provides instant gratification, but that’s it. The three has everything. The shooter pulls up and releases; you watch the shot, you wonder, how does it look, will it go in? For a moment, time seems to stop. Everyone on the court is watching, helpless to stop it. It’s almost as if the game is no longer in the hands of the players, but with some unnatural force. And when the shot drops, it means more. That extra point; it can be the dagger in the hearts of an opponent.

When a player gets hot from beyond the arc, it’s even scarier. A jump shot is hard enough to block. Even contesting a shot doesn’t guarantee success. And when that happens, the player becomes a dynamic force. Kate Higier was that force that night. I remember Drew’s fans yelling to shut her down, to cover her. You don’t think the players tried? Oh how they tried. But it didn’t matter. She just stepped further back and hoisted them up. And they dropped. I just shook my head. There was just no way anyone was going to stop her. I got the feeling at that moment, if Higier threw one up from half court, it would go. And watching her, you knew she knew it too. The confidence, the poise, the complete disregard for the defense. She was alone, in that zone. No strategy, no defense, no player was going to get her out of it.

Aaron arrived at half time, and was shocked to see that Higier had nailed seven threes in the first half alone. In the second half, when the barrage continued early on, we started banging on the bleachers and chanting the lady of the hour’s name. Considering there might have been more Drew fans there than NYU ones, we felt Ms. Higier deserved to be recognized. Though she cooled down, only hitting three in the second half, the Miami native had earned it. She finished with a game high 30 points, all from behind the arc, shooting 10-17, or a whopping 59 percent on the lowest percentage shot in basketball.

So while it may have started out as an unassuming night, 10 threes later, that performance against Drew rates as the greatest feat I've ever witnessed in person. Because while I've seen Piazza, Curtis Martin, Greg Maddux, Mark Messier and Randy Johnson in person, only Katie Higier ever made me sit there for over an hour, shaking my head, while saying in disbelief:

"Wow... that's just incredible.."

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