The Florida softball team will begin its national championship defense from the same place it started last season’s: The top.

For the second consecutive year, the Gators will enter the regular season as the No. 1 team in the country in the NFCA Division I Top 25 Poll as well as the ESPN.com Poll.

Florida collected 26 first-place votes (782 points) in the former and 17 first-place votes (495 points) in the latter.

Michigan, LSU, Auburn and Alabama round out the top five of the NFCA poll.

In addition, four other Southeastern Conference teams cracked both polls: Tennessee (8/9), Georgia (12/14), Missouri (15/12) and Kentucky (18/18).

This marks the third time in Tim Walton’s 11-year tenure as head coach that Florida is the preseason No. 1 with the other instances being last season after winning its first national title and 2009 after winning 70 games a year earlier.

A difficult schedule will see the Gators compete against 14 ranked teams in 2016.

Last season, Florida finished with a 60-7 record, going 18-5 in SEC play.

The Gators open the 2016 campaign against Illinois State at the USF Wilson-DeMarini Tournament in Tampa on Feb. 12. SEC play begins with a three-game series against Auburn on March 12.

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