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New coach raises UF's intensity level

If the Gators expected coach Carolyn Peck to have a laid-back attitude like their former coach, they were mistaken.

Terribly mistaken.

"She carries herself with such an aura that you feel the intensity when she just walks in the room, whether it's a birthday party or just a workout," walkon guard Ash'lea Moore said.

The Gators' future was uncertain after Carol Ross, Florida's all-time winningest women's basketball coach, resigned in March after 12 seasons.

At her news conference, Ross said she wasn't the right coach to take the program to the next level. She had someone in mind who could.

That was Peck, and she brings more than intensity to Gainesville.

She has impressive credentials, leading Purdue to a national title in 1999 and the Elite Eight in 1998. She compiled a 44-52 record and a postseason berth as general manager and coach of the WNBA's Orlando Miracle.

Expect Peck and her staff to bring a different style of play to the court this season.

"It's going to be a totally different ballgame this year because Coach Peck likes run and gun, and from what I see now we like to run and gun too," forward Courtney Cooper said. "So, it's going to be a good style to play this year."

Ross left behind key pieces for Peck to work with: a star in center and Kodak All-American Vanessa Hayden, a potential star in Cooper, a strong recruiting class of five freshmen and a group of sophomores who are poised to expand their roles.

Peck hasn't been afraid to experiment with this relatively inexperienced group. While Hayden's duties will remain the same in the paint, Peck has groomed Cooper to play guard as well as forward.

Two freshmen, Dalila Eshe and Brittany Davis, can back up Hayden at center. Senior Trish Patterson has become more versatile, practicing at both center and forward.

But despite all the shifting and focus on versatility, Peck stresses the system isn't as crazy as it sounds.

"We're going to run controlled," Peck said. "We want to push tempo, but it's going to be a new control and there is a method to the madness."

The madness will include greater expectations from Hayden's teammates. The 6-foot-4 Hayden (17.1 points, 11.8 rebounds a game last season) is a proven threat _ she brings size on defense and can post up on offense _ but Peck wants more. She said she expects that offensive capability to spread to all five starters and deep into her reserves.

"Those positions are the tough ones of coming in and taking the level of play from the starters up another level," Peck said. "That's the expectation of my bench. It's not just kind of to maintain, to sub, to give somebody rest, but to come in and take it up another level."

The competition is there but deciding who fits in those roles is still in question. And for Hayden, that's just fine.

"I think my role can change every day," Hayden said. "I could be the high scorer one day and the cheerleader the next. We just have a great group of girls."

Peck has more than intensity and a new system for players to adjust to. The Gators also must acquaint themselves with each other. Just two _ Moore and Hayden _ have played at Florida for two years. Cooper and Patterson, both junior college transfers with one year at UF, are the only seniors.

As a result, some Gators need to step up at an earlier stage in their collegiate careers.

"I feel like a veteran," sophomore guard Tara Taylor said. "I feel like this year is going to be very exciting. We have a couple of seniors. They're the leaders, but they have to have subleaders."