The Occidental men’s tennis team received a significant roster boost last season when Josh Dancu (junior) decided to transfer from DePaul University. Through his first several matches donning the black and orange, the Tiger ace became known for two things: wearing a fitted blue Cubs hat during matches and playing every opponent with the same cool-headed demeanor.
Dancu has since established himself as the No. 1 for the Occidental squad in both singles and doubles, and he currently holds an individual record of 4-2 overall (1-2 SCIAC) through the team’s first six matches of 2014.
The Naples, Fla., native first picked up a tennis racquet 16 years ago and has been continually honing and refining his skills through junior and competitive tournaments. This wealth of experience led to his recruitment to NCAA Division-I DePaul University as one of the top 100 junior tennis prospects in the nation.
But after recording a 5-17 singles record and a 2-7 doubles record at DePaul as a first-year starter, the 5-foot-11 newcomer decided to transfer to Occidental.
“Playing [Division-I] tennis takes a lot; it pretty much takes up most of your college life,” Dancu said. “You practice year-round and have to do well because that is what coaches expect and look for.”
While the difference between Division-I and Division-III initially seemed vast, Dancu said that the most notable differences do not arise from competition itself. Rather, he believes that the disparity between divisions stems from practice regime and mindset.
“I think [Division III] tennis is a little more well-rounded between athletics, academics and other social aspects,” Dancu said. “I also think the mentality is a little different. Players are more hungry in [Division-III] and want success for themselves and teammates.”
For Dancu, the transition into Division-III tennis at Occidental was rather seamless. Last year, he accumulated a 10-6 record in his first season as a Tiger while playing the best competitors in a conference where half of the teams were consistently ranked top-20 nationally.
His success was recognized by many in the league, as he was named a Second Team All-SCIAC selection at the culmination of his 2013 campaign.
“[Dancu] has continued to show improvement throughout the season, and we only see him improving on his solid first year,” Occidental head coach Brian Newhall said.
And while Dancu’s success on the court continues to fuel the squad, his approachable presence and calm demeanor have been a source of support and inspiration to the team in other areas as well.
“[Dancu] is definitely a leader on the team,” teammate Avery Howard (sophomore) said. “Not only does he help out with problems about strokes and serves, but he is a fun guy to hang out with and always has a smile on his face.”
Howard, the regular No. 3 singles player for the black and orange, is also Dancu’s No. 1 doubles partner. Although the duo’s record (2-4 overall, 2-1 SCIAC) reflects four losses, they still managed to capture at least five games in each defeat.
“Me and Dancu like to have fun, Howard said. “And since we are both pretty laid back, we can really listen to each other on the court. It is also nice that we both share the same drive to win, because we both cannot stand losing matches, especially the close ones.”
Even though Dancu has become a fixture at the helm of the Tiger men’s tennis program, he is far from satisfied and persistently works to improve his skill set and conditioning.
“The fundamentals are always a key thing for me to work on,” Dancu said. “I am always working on my conditioning, serves and ground strokes to make sure I am physically ready for matches.”
Dancu is also quick to point out the efforts of teammates and coaches and their work in creating a supportive and inspiring atmosphere for each of Occidental’s matches.
“Coach Newhall has done a phenomenal job and deserves a lot of credit, as he is always supportive and helpful throughout practices and matches,” Dancu said. “We get in huddles before matches and get each other pumped up, and I think it surprises some people how into it we get.”
With the 2014 campaign at full steam, Dancu is already well on his way to another All-SCIAC selection with his 4-2 overall record. However, it is the 1-2 SCIAC mark on which the Tiger has set his focus.
“I am just trying to be the best that I can right now,” Dancu said. “But as I get to know other SCIAC players, each match becomes more personal.”
Dancu and company host Tufts University today at 3:30 p.m., beginning a stretch of six games in six days.