GAINESVILLE — After 2½ years of preparing, from hiring a coach to building a state-of-the-art facility to pulling in the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, Florida will launch a sport Saturday when the women's lacrosse team hosts Jacksonville at 6 p.m.
It is the first Gator sport to be added since softball in 1997.
"Our facility is among the nation's finest, and a lot of hard work has gone into this," athletic director Jeremy Foley said. "We're very excited about it. … We've recruited very hard, so our expectations are we're going to work hard. Every program around here is expected to be highly competitive, but there's no timetable. I'm confident that good things will happen."
Florida's roster will have 29 players, including 24 freshmen. Because lacrosse is not played extensively in this area, it's no surprise that only four call Florida home.
"Florida is outside the traditional geographic area where lacrosse is played, so I look at these women as pioneers, trail-blazers, risk-takers," new coach Amanda O'Leary said. "They didn't take the road well-traveled; they took a road never traveled. They took a chance to come to a place that had no facilities, we had really nothing to show them, but we talked to them about a dream. And Florida has delivered on all those promises. They have come through. I give them credit for taking a chance and wanting to be a part of something special."
Per Foley's choice, the Gators will play in the American Lacrosse Conference, the toughest in the nation. It includes five-time defending national champion and current No. 1 Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Vanderbilt, Johns Hopkins and Georgetown.
"Our learning curve has to be much shorter than your typical team," O'Leary said. "When he (Foley) first told me we were going into the American Lacrosse Conference, he told me in order to be the best you have to play the best. And I thought with 24 freshmen, I'm a little nervous. But we'll get over that. The University of Florida has standards; they have high standards. And we're going to go right into the best of the best."
Gator arrested: Reserve redshirt freshman DT Gary Brown has been suspended from all team activities after his arrest early Sunday on two misdemeanor counts of battery stemming from an incident at an off-campus party.
Brown, who did not play in 2009, is accused of striking a woman in the face with his open hand as she attempted to get people to leave a party at a Gainesville apartment complex. When another woman tried to intervene, she was scratched by Brown as he tried to slap her arms away, police reports state.
The 19-year-old is considered a promising star for the Gators. He was the No. 2 defensive tackle in the nation coming out of high school last year. Both women have filed sworn complaints against Brown, who was released on his own recognizance Monday morning and ordered not to have contact with the women. He is the third player or former player to be arrested in the past three months and the 27th reported arrest under coach Urban Meyer. Former CB Wondy Pierre-Louis was arrested on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend one week after the season ended.
Antonya English can be reached at email@example.com.