Florida Gators softball opens the 2022 season this weekend

Special to Gator Sports

The Florida Gators softball team opens its 2022 season Friday at a tournament in Tampa. The Gators — ranked No. 6 in the 2022 USA Today/NFCA DI Top 25 Preseason Coaches' Poll and No. 5 in the 2022 Softball Preseason Collegiate Top 25 poll — are scheduled to play Illinois State at 5:30 p.m. at the University of South Florida tournament.

Over the weekend, the Gators will also take on Kansas City (10:30 a.m. Saturday),  No. 16 Michigan (1 p.m. Saturday) and USF (noon Sunday).

UF's first home game is set for Wednesday, at 6 p.m. against Jacksonville.

The 2022 team returns several players from last year's squad, including NFCA All-Americans Charla Echols, Hannah Adams and Elizabeth Hightower. The trio anchors a group of 16 returning contributors from last season, along with the addition of 2021 transfer Skylar Wallace and six newcomers.

Entering their first year with the program is graduate transfer Marissa Mesiemore, and freshmen Cali Decker, Lexie Delbrey, Kendra Falby, Sam Roe and Reagan Walsh. Roe, a catcher, joined the program in January as an early enrollee and Mesiemore is from Florida Gulf Coast.

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University of Florida's Skylar Wallace (17) plays first base as Kinsey Goelz (20) gets ready to run from first during an inner squad preseason scrimmage at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on the UF campus, in Gainesville, Feb. 8, 2022.

Honors for Florida players

On Monday, the Southeastern Conference announced 2022 Preseason All-SEC Team, and it included Adams, Echols and Hightower.

Echols, from Newnan, Georgia, led the Gators with a .375 batting average (60-of-160) with 15 home runs, 11 doubles and three triples. Adams, of Hoschton, Georgia, hit .356 (63-of-177) with 10 home runs and eight doubles.

Adams and Echols were also All-SEC First Team and All-SEC Defensive Team selections last season. Hightower was a 2021 All-SEC Second Team selection and earned a pair of SEC Pitcher of the Week accolades. The Monticello, Florida, native ranked inside the top 10 in the conference in seven different pitching categories.

Adams, Echols and Wallace have been named to the 2022 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top 50 "Watch List" by USA Softball. Wallace, a redshirt junior, is set to compete in her first season with the Gators since having to sit out the 2021 season. During the shortened 2020 season at Alabama, she batted .387 (24-of-62) with five doubles, two triples, a home run and was 9-of-10 on stolen base attempts.

University of Florida softball head coach Tim Walton watches his team on the field during an inner squad preseason scrimmage at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium on the UF campus, in Gainesville, Feb. 8, 2022.

The Gators on TV

On Tuesday, the SEC Network and ESPN announced their college softball schedule, and eight of the Gators' games will be on the ESPN Network and six will air on the SEC Network. The 2022 SEC Softball Tournament is set for May 10-14 at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville.

"Every year our sport grows and more interest is gained due to the increased exposure we have from the SEC Network and all of the networks in the ESPN family."  coach Tim Walton said. "Last season our sport had another major milestone as the first ever collegiate softball game was showcased on ABC. Opportunities such as that are more valuable than most might assume, so we are extremely thankful for every opportunity we have to expand the visibility of the sport of softball."

UF vs. ranked teams

The Gators also received a No. 5 ranking in the Top 25 Poll and ranked No. 6 in Softball America's 2022 NCAA Preseason Top 25. UF will start its season nationally ranked in the top 10 for the eighth consecutive year. 

Florida's 2022 schedule also boasts eight teams from the USA Today/coaches top 25. In addition to Michigan, the Gators will face No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Florida State, No. 8 Arkansas, No. 14 LSU, No. 22 Tennessee, No. 20 Duke and No. 17 James Madison.

UF is 345-261 (.569) against competition ranked in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 and is 303-172 (.638) against teams ranked in the Softball Top 25.

Follow the Gators: See the Gators' complete schedule here. 

2022 Florida Gators softball on TV

March 12  vs. Mississippi State, noon, SEC Network

March 13  vs. Mississippi State, 4 p.m., SEC Network

March 14  vs. Mississippi State, 7 p.m., SEC Network

March 27 vs. Tennessee, 2 p.m., ESPNU

April 2 at Auburn, 3 p.m., SEC Network

April 6 vs. Florida State , 6 p.m., SEC Network

April 9 vs. Alabama, 3 p.m., ESPN2

April 10 vs. Alabama, 4 p.m., ESPN2

April 11 vs. Alabama, 7 p.m., SEC Network

April 22 vs. Arkansas, 8 p.m., ESPNU

April 23 vs. Arkansas, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2

April 30  at LSU, noon, ESPN2

May 1 at LSU, noon, ESPN2

May 4 at Florida State, 6 p.m., ESPNU