STARKVILLE, Miss. -- UC San Diego is starting right where it left off.

NFCA Preseason Poll
1 UC San Diego 400
2 Alabama-Huntsville 382
3 North Georgia 366
4 Saginaw Valley 313
5 West Texas A&M 303
Complete Poll

The defending national champion Tritons will begin the 2012 season as the No. 1 team in the nation, according to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top-25 Preseason Poll that was released by the NFCA on Wednesday. After finishing the 2011 season at No. 1 in the final NFCA poll, the Tritons will compete as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time during the regular season in program history.

The Tritons received all 16 first-place votes and were followed in the poll by last year's national runner-up Alabama-Huntsville in second. UCSD beat Alabama-Huntsville 10-3 in last year's title game.

Perennial power North Georgia was picked third, while Saginaw Valley and West Texas A&M rounded out the top five in fourth and fifth, respectively.

After not being ranked for three full seasons, the Tritons have been listed in the top 25 for 15 consecutive weeks dating back to February 16, 2011. UCSD has been in the top 10 for eight of those weeks.

UCSD head coach Patti Gerckens, who's staff was honored as the 2011 NFCA Coaching Staff of the Year, welcomes back five starters and 13 letterwinners from last year's squad. The 2011 Tritons earned the school's first national title and California Collegiate Athletic Association regular-season title while setting the school record for wins (45-13).

UCSD was recently tabbed as the preseason favorite to win another CCAA title in 2012 in a poll of conference coaches on January 18. The Tritons totaled 81 points and nine first-place votes to finish ahead of Chico State, which received 65 votes