The Missouri softball team will begin their 2011 campaign as the No. 7 ranked team in the country according to the USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Poll, as released Tuesday morning by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. The Tigers rank the highest out of the five Big 12 teams in the top-25, with Oklahoma coming in at No. 9, Texas at No. 15, Texas A&M at No. 21 and Oklahoma State at No. 23.

Defending champion UCLA earned the No. 1 ranking, receiving 27 of the 30 first place votes. Arizona received three first place votes and came in second, while Georgia sits at No. 3. Tennessee and Florida round out the top-five.

Last year, the Tigers earned their second straight, and fifth overall, Women’s College World Series bid, as they set a school record with 51 wins. Reaching as high as No. 3 in the country last season, Missouri finished the year at No. 8, tying the program’s highest end-of-season finish ever.

Missouri will face eight opponents who are in the preseason top-25, along with five others who are receiving votes. In addition to the other four ranked Big 12 teams, Mizzou will also take on No. 6 Alabama, No. 10 Washington, No. 12 California and No. 24 Illinois. The Tiger opponents who are receiving votes in the poll include Fresno State, San Diego State, Illinois State, Nebraska and Texas Tech.

Mizzou returns three of their four starting pitchers this season, along with eight of their nine starters in the batting lineup, including two-time All-American Rhea Taylor.

The Tigers open their season in San Diego, Calif., at the San Diego Classic from Feb. 18-20, where they’ll face off against Fresno State, Cal, Washington, San Diego State and Sacramento State.