By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
MAYS LANDING — Kayla Sykes, a junior guard at Atlantic County Institute of Technology, said it was important for her to play well at the inaugural Kiss Cancer Goodbye Tournament on Saturday at ACIT. Her aunt’s battle against cancer was the inspiration for the inaugural event, after all. Carol Small-Smith, a former teacher and coach in Pleasantville, lost her fight against cancer a few years ago, and Sykes and her mom, Lonniyell, approached RedHawks coach Jason Vander Ryk last spring about a tournament that could raise money for cancer research and awareness.
After months of preparation, the tournament finally came together on Saturday, and by all accounts was a rousing success. It featured 10 teams playing five games, there were prizes handed out at halftime of each game to fans, and a 50-inch television was raffled off. It made for a long day for the ACIT players, who were tasked with being ambassadors for the school, showing other teams to locker rooms and taking selfies with fans, among other activities.
But the RedHawks showed no signs of being tired when they finally tipped off in the last game on the schedule, as they raced out to a 34-6 lead on Atlantic Christian before cruising to a 59-20 victory over the Cougars.
“I thought about my aunt the whole time. Every time I see the sun shining on me (through the gym windows) during game, I know it’s her,” said Sykes, who did have a good game, finishing with 13 points. “I can feel her, when I shoot a three, or make a good move, I know my aunt is looking down on me.”
Jakyra Williams led the way for ACIT (6-3) with 18 points, and the RedHawks also got solid contributions from players such as Giovanna D’Alessandro, Savannah Witmer and Julianna Montero, among others.
The day was about much more than a win over the Cougars, however, for the ACIT players and coach Jason Vander Ryk. This is the RedHawks’ first foray into hosting a tournament, and they wanted the other teams to enjoy the experience. By all accounts, mission accomplished. Former Little League World Series star Mo’ne Davis, of Philadelphia, who is an AAU teammate of Sykes, even made an appearance in support of the tournament’s cause, which was to raise money for cancer research for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
“I thought it was a fun experience, especially since this is the first time for it, and being home (for a tournament) was nice since we’re always away. It was a good experience. I thought we have a good turnout. We’ll still have to prove some people wrong (in the years to come) because some people doubt us.” Sykes said. “The teams dedicated their time, so I thought that was nice of them. It was a really good experience. I thought all the teams did well, and we really appreciate them coming out.”
Hammonton 48, Bridgeton 24: The Blue Devils scored 19 points in the third quarter after struggling offensively in the second, to pull away from the Bulldogs. Sara Peretti led the way with 16 points, while Jada Thompson and Paige Souder combined for 18 more. Hammonton’s defense held the Bulldogs to less than six points in three of the four quarters, as the Blue Devils improved to 9-2.
Cumberland Regional 44, St. Joseph 24: The Colts got off to a hot start and kept the Wildcats at bay throughout the first half before cruising to a 10-point win to start the Kiss Cancer Goodbye Tournament. Geena Tartaglia led St. Joseph with 11 points, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from half court before the final horn.
Winslow 47, Oakcrest 25: The Eagles, perhaps the most talented team in the tournament, jumped out to a big lead and were never really threatened by the Falcons, who fell to 2-6. Winslow went on a 10-0 run to start the game, and by halftime had stretched its lead to 22-8. A 21-point third quarter salted the game away. Brittany Garner led the way with 21 points and Najee Vendor-Seabrook added 10 for Winslow, while Ionyonia Alves led the way for Oakcrest with 13 points.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays