From foodie to gamer, Hamilton’s Beach defined by more than volleyball

Neomi Beach, right, and coach Sharon Vanis teamed up to lead Hamilton High School to two straight state titles in volleyball. The Huskies went for a third this season but fell in the championship to Corona del Sol. (Photo courtesy of Neomi Beach)

PHOENIX – Neomi Beach loves the taste of winning, but not more than trying a new recipe or getting a new high score in “Call of Duty.”

In her free time, Beach tries different foods all over Arizona and comes home to try and recreate them. As her mother calls her a “mini chef,” she takes pride in not only how the food tastes but the aesthetics, too.

“I am a foodie,” Beach said. “Let me tell you, I am a foodie. I eat so much food. I made an Instagram for all the food I try, and all of my friends know me for eating food.”

She is also known as a standout volleyball player, recently leading Hamilton High to the 6A state championship match where the Huskies fell to Corona del Sol.

Beach, an outside hitter, was an integral part of the school’s first volleyball championship in school history. During her sophomore season, the Huskies avenged two regular-season losses to Perry by beating the Pumas for the state title in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Building off the momentum from that championship run, the Huskies defeated Sandra Day O’Connor in four sets in 2021 to capture back-to-back crowns.

However, the second-ranked Huskies fell just short of a championship three-peat this year, falling to the top-ranked Aztecs.

However, that loss didn’t mark an end to Beach’s volleyball career. She has committed to play at the University of San Diego.

Hamilton coach Sharon Vanis is no stranger to coaching Division I prospects, and she wants all of her players to have championship qualities beyond the volleyball court.

“Just like Neomi, the girls are humble, coachable, and work hard,” Vanis said. “They don’t think they know everything. These are all the things I look for when I do cuts. I look for that personality. Maybe, if I do not get the best athlete, when looking for these things I am getting the best kid that fits the team.”

And versatile ones, too.

Although Beach enjoys the warmth food makes her feel, she said the gratification she feels when her teammates want her to make her famous garlic pasta is almost as good as getting a kill during a game.

She likened it to a scene in the Walt Disney movie “The Princess and the Frog,” when Princess Tiana cooks up a batch of gumbo and brings everyone together.

“That’s what I like to relate it to,” Beach said. “You share a lot of memories and a lot of love in a conversation over the dinner table. Food brings so much joy and so much happiness and so many different emotions.”

After a day of training and a home-cooked meal, Beach also loves to lock herself into her game room where she decompresses over a game of “Call of Duty,” “Apex Legends” or “Fortnite.”

Her black gaming chair with iridescent purple accents fits her perfectly and supports her posture while completing her missions. After months of begging her father for a curved gaming monitor, Beach finally added it to put the finishing touch on her decked-out setup.

Neomi Beach has committed to play volleyball at the University of San Diego and will take a love of eating and gaming with her. (Photo courtesy of Neomi Beach)

As her eyes lock onto the game and the monitor shines back on her face, LED lights brighten the anime posters hanging nearby.

When submerged in a game, her competitive spirit lights up, too.

“I have my headphones and mic on,” she said. “I pay attention to small details, just like on the court. Who’s coming towards me? Who’s trying to kill me in the game? Who’s running towards me? I am super competitive. I do not take a loss lightly, and I always get the job done.”

An only child, Beach finds company playing online with a star-studded Hamilton squad that includes University of Arizona football commit Genesis Smith and Division I-bound wide receiver Tre Spivey.

But gaming is mostly an escape from her first priority, volleyball. However, before she latched onto volleyball, Beach dabbled in other sports.

Her parents are former Hamilton track coaches, which prompted the 6-footer to give that a try. She also experimented with tennis. But after trying various sports, she stuck with volleyball for the long haul.

Still, she benefited from the experience.

“Taking that transition from tennis to volleyball, I figured out that I was ahead of a lot of other people because I already had this motion down from playing tennis,” Beach said. “I already had those quick jab steps, quickness and hand-eye coordination. Since then, volleyball has become the love of my life.”

Since Beach is the first person in her family to play volleyball, to prepare her for the next level, her parents applied principles from what they knew best – track and field.

When Beach is not lifting weights during fifth period volleyball or staying after school for practice, she is doing speed and endurance-based drills common in track. The crossover even led to Beach training with Omar Craddock, the 2013 U.S. triple jump national champion and a three-time NCAA champ in the event.

Beach, who Vanis affectionately calls “Nemo,” has dreamed of wearing Hamilton across her chest since she was 6-years old. The work that each party has put into building a trusting relationship has taken two strangers to a point where they asked to be separated during an interview. They wanted to avoid breaking down in tears in front of each other at the thought of their time together coming to an end.

The relationship has come a long way since Beach’s first day under Vanis’ tutelage.

The star outside hitter’s mother, Keisha Beach, remembers her daughter’s jitters when she suited up for Vanis for the first time.

“This was my first time seeing her freak out,” Keisha Beach said. “During the first serve, she let the ball go right by her, and she just looked. She didn’t move, and we all just started laughing. She was just like a deer in headlights.”

After shaking off that initial, starstruck moment, Beach went on to rack up minutes and experience for the Huskies and Vanis.

It wasn’t without difficulty, however. During her sophomore season, Beach suffered a dislocated patella – more commonly known as a kneecap.

The injury only made Beach more determined. She continued to be her team’s biggest cheerleader and clocked countless hours of work off the court to return to form.

“I think injuries make you,” Vanis said. “They make you sit back and realize how thankful you are for your athleticism.”

Beach’s knee injury also served as a catalyst for Beach to become a team leader.

“We do not go to a game in the stands without a parent of an underclassmen coming up to us saying how much they love Neomi and how nice of a kid she is,” Keisha Beach said. “They tell us she’s such a leader and our girls really like having her around. She really just helps our girls turn into better athletes.”

Beach met USD coach Alfred Reft at an Aspire Recruiting College Camp, where she experienced the same initial feeling she had during her first interaction with Vanis. After working under Reft’s direction for just an hour at the camp, Beach knew she wanted four more years of it.

And, just as she does in the gaming chair or when she tries a new recipe, Beach is ready to give college volleyball her all.

“At the next level, I am excited to shine,” Beach said. “Just because I am a freshman does not mean anything. It also does not mean I am not coming for you.

“I’m excited to be with my teammates but at the end of the day, I want to be at the top as the best version of myself.”

Her time under Vanis did end on a sour note by falling to Corona del Sol at the 2022 AIA State Girls Volleyball Championships (3-2). Although the loss was heartbreaking, she is still proud of the contribution she made to her team this year while being named player of the match five times and finishing as the 6A Premier All Region Player of the Year as well as Offensive Player of the Year. She looks forward to her next chapter of sporting her Torero bright blue over 300 miles away.

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