The University of Hawaii women’s basketball team returned to work on Tuesday.

The Rainbow Wahine hit the court for the team’s first practice of the 2022-23 season as UH enters as the defending Big West Conference champions in search of reaching back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time in program history.

Last season’s memorable run saw the team go 20-9 overall, 13-3 in the BWC with a successful tournament run in Henderson, Nevada that earned the program a trip to the NCAA Tournament where UH would fall to Baylor in Waco, Texas in the opening round.

“I want them to approach it like we’re not champions,” said head coach Laura Beeman. “This team has done absolutely zero. Period. Whatever they did last year, they did last year. This is a different group. They’ve done zero. That’s how they have to approach practices, that’s how they have to approach the locker room, that’s how they have to approach competition. If they start really dwelling on oh, we’re champions, we won’t be in the top three this year. Our conference is too good and it’s too easy to get beat if you’re arrogant and that’s not what this group is going to do.”

A big loss from that season was certainly record setting sharp shooter at guard, Amy Atwell who was drafted by the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA.

The Rainbows do return a number of players from the championship team though, in fact, eight players with starting experience are back for this season while also introducing a key addition in reigning Big West Freshman of the Year, Cal State Fullerton transfer guard Lily Wahinekapu of Iolani.

“It means a lot to me,” said Wahinekapu. “I feel like I want to represent my home state, my family, my team. It’s not just about me, it’s about everybody else and who I’m doing it for.”

Wahinekapu, who joins her younger sister Jobi Lefotu who is a freshman guard, averaged 14.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game for the Titans.

“Lily is a phenomenal player. We knew that last year when we played against her and so when the opportunity came up that she was going to come back home it was a no-brainer for us,” said Beeman. “You don’t replace Amy Atwell and it’s not just the points, it’s more of the gravity that she demanded on the court. She really gave us great spacing so we’re going to have to find different ways to score but with Lily’s ability to have the ball in her hands, she can score three different ways, get other people involved. That will definitely help, absolutely.”

The Rainbow Wahine will open their season on the road with games at Oregon State and Portland on November 7 and 9 respectively.

UH will host their first home games starting on November 18 against Florida Gulf Coast.