Following a disappointing finish to its 2021 season, Florida softball returns to the diamond Friday as head coach Tim Walton looks to carry his team back to Oklahoma City for the first time since 2019. The Gators are ranked top-10 in both major preseason polls and trail only one SEC team: No. 2 Alabama.
In addition to welcoming four incoming freshmen and a pair of eligible transfers, the Gators return 16 starters led by a pair of D1Softball Preseason All-Americans — fifth-year second baseman Hannah Adams and senior third baseman Charla Echols.
After a stellar senior season and receiving her degree, Adams wasted no time committing to her final year of eligibility, calling it an opportunity that she could not pass up.
“I didn’t even have to think about it,” Adams said. “As soon as they told us that we were going to get the opportunity to come back for another year and get that extra year, I told Coach [Tim] Walton pretty much immediately that I was going to take my fifth year,” Adams said.
In the circle, Florida will lean heavily on right-hander Elizabeth Hightower — who earned NFCA All-American honors — and fifth-year pitcher Natalie Lugo to carry the load and deliver quality innings.
More recently, Adams, Echols and Hightower all earned Preseason All-SEC honors. The trio ties the most Preseason All-SEC selections of any team.
Florida’s schedule includes 56 games — 14 televised — and eight different ranked oppoents.
Florida will face four different teams this weekend in Tampa at the USF Tournament beginning with Illinois State on Friday. The Gators will best tested as early as Saturday when they take on No. 16/13 Michigan.
Florida’s home opener is slated for Wednesday against Jacksonville. Two days later, the Gators will host four schools — No. 20/18 Duke, Villanova, Louisville and FAMU — the T-Mobile Tournament.
The Gators will wrap up the month of February in Orlando where they’ll battle four different opponents in three days at the UCF Knights Classic.
Florida will return to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium for a nine-game home stand capped off by its first SEC series against Mississippi State. The series begins on March 12 and all three games will air on the SEC Network.
The Gators will play Texas A&M the following weekend in College Station before they return home to face No. 22/16 Tennessee. The series finale will air on ESPNU.
The Gators will open a road series at Auburn on April Fool’s Day before they return to Gainesville to welcome rival No. 4/6 Florida State.
Three days later, the Gators will welcome the defending SEC-champion Alabama Crimson Tide. The first two contests will air on ESPN2 and the SEC Network will broadcast the finale.
Florida’s final home series is against No. 8/9 Arkansas and its last two road series are against Ole Miss and No. 14/15 LSU. The second and third games of the LSU series will air on ESPN2.
The Gators will travel to Tallahassee on May 4 for a rematch against FSU before they return home for back-to-back doubleheaders to end the regular season.
Florida will host this year’s SEC Tournament from May 10-14 ahead of the NCAA Regionals.