Updated 4/21/2012: Ohio State's gymnast team finished fourth on Friday in the college tournament semifinals and did not advance to the national finals competition.
On the first move of the Northview High School graduate's first college routine during a meet at Missouri, she lost her grip on the uneven bars and tumbled to the mat. The attention of the cavernous 15,000-seat arena --fans, judges, teammates -- lasered onto the freshman, who recalled thinking, "Wow, this is really happening."
"Just a devastating crash landing," Buckeyes coach Carey Fagan said.
If there is truly one chance to make a first impression, Dean made the moment count.
She promptly returned to the bars, executed the routine to plan and performed her three remaining events without incident.
Fagan had wanted to know all along how the gifted but raw gymnast from Sylvania would handle pressure, and she got her answer. An event that would have emotionally leveled other first-year gymnasts barely registered.
"I knew then she had capacity of an athlete to handle adversity and be mentally tough enough at this high level," Fagan said.
Two years later, Dean's leadership has helped vault the Buckeyes into the elite stratus of women's gymnastics.
The junior co-captain and her Ohio State teammates are crashing the NCAA Championships for the first time since 1990.
With the first-team All-Big Ten Dean scoring a 39.175 in the all-around competition to lead the Buckeyes to a second-place finish at the NCAA Raleigh Regional earlier this month, OSU clinched one of 12 spots at the national meet in Duluth, Ga.
The championships begin tonight at 6 p.m. with Ohio State competing in one of two semifinals along with Florida, Arkansas, Oregon State, Alabama, and Georgia. The top three teams in each semifinal advance to the NCAA Super Six at 4 p.m. Saturday, where the national champion will be determined.
After the Buckeyes learned their team score of 196.225 held up at the four-team regional -- a score of 196 out of 200 is considered strong -- Dean described a full-throated blur of hugs and tears.
"When we finally could just say we were going to nationals, everyone was just so ecstatic," Dean said in a phone interview this week. "It was pretty outrageous. We were just so unbelievably happy."
Added her father, Roy Dean: "We pinch ourselves. It's amazing. She's having the time of her life."
If Dean's rise sounds storybook, neither father nor daughter would disagree.
Dean began training as an 8-year-old at Sunrise Gymnastics Academy in Sylvania, but saw the sport as an extracurricular pastime. She only got serious her freshman year of high school upon a challenge from a noted Sunrise instructor.
Beth Wymar, a four-time All-American gymnast at Michigan, saw in Dean that she could be shaped into an elite Division I athlete.
Dean decided she wanted to pursue gymnastics in college. Each day, she fulfilled her requirements at Northview in the morning, then worked individually with Wymar in the afternoon before her evening club practices.
"She did this for the next three years in order to get her skill up to a point where a college would be interested," Roy Dean said.
By her junior year, schools were. When Fagan expressed interest, the recruitment was effectively over.
"Being a part of Ohio State is just amazing in itself," Dean said.
The gymnastics team is pretty good, too, and Dean quickly proved to be a cornerstone. Her freshman year, she posted a team-high average on the floor (9.871) and the second-best mark on the beam (9.623). Last year, she was named all-conference and an Academic All-American.
This year, Dean led the Buckeyes as their only competitor in the all-around -- floor, beam, vault, bars.
"Her presence on the team is undeniable," Fagan said. "As the only all-arounder, the younger kids look to her for leadership, focus and motivation. Her work ethic and conditioning is outstanding. And athletically, she is at the top of her game right now."
On the national stage, Dean is prepared to make a smashing first impression.
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.