Junior Allison Zuhlke finds family through Iowa women’s gymnastics

After spending freshman year at Towson University, Zuhlke transferred to Iowa to be closer to her family, not knowing she would find another one.


Iowa gymnastics team huddles during a gymnastics meet between No. 17 Iowa and No. 12 Michigan State at Xtream Arena on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Spartans 196.150-195.725.

Emma Sachs, Sports Reporter

Transferring schools can be the start of a new opportunity or a lonely journey. But for Iowa gymnastics junior Allison Zuhlke, it was a necessary decision to bring her closer to her family.

Despite having a great experience at Towson University during her freshman year, Zuhlke came to Iowa before the start of the 2021-22 school year.

“I loved it at Towson,” Zuhlke said. “But being in Maryland was super far away, and I really struggled. I loved the team. I loved the coaches. It was probably one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made to have to transfer because it was just solely on wanting to be closer to home.”

Zuhlke, a Wisconsin native, began searching for a school within four hours of her family so they could visit and watch her competitions in person. While searching for schools to transfer to, Zuhlke also valued finding a team that reflected her love for her family.

“Everyone seems so genuinely happy for each other, unlike a lot of other teams that just kind of look forced,” Zuhlke said about Iowa’s gymnastics team. “That was something I was drawn to because I’m really a family girl.”

Iowa head coach Larissa Libby enjoyed getting to know Zuhlke during the recruitment process.

“I’m grateful that she found us and that she continued to think of us as she was trying to make a decision to come closer to home,” Libby said of Zuhlke. “She is a mystery all the time. And so, as we’re peeling back the layers and getting to know her, it’s pretty cool to see the person that’s coming out.”

Libby discussed how Zuhlke fit right into the team from the start and mentioned how the transfer recruitment process can be difficult, but Zuhlke’s values made her an obvious choice.

“The way she handled herself was just so bubbly. It was easy,” Libby said. “Her whole family aspect was important because it’s important in our program, so I knew that she understood it.”

Zuhlke joined the Iowa gymnastics team her sophomore year and immediately felt welcomed by her teammates and coaches.

She said being at Iowa has helped her strive to be a consistent leader on the team.

“I want to be a gymnast my whole team can trust and rely on,” Zuhlke said. “That’s what pushes me in practice. I want to be a role model for the underclassmen and even the upperclassmen, too. To be really consistent and have others look up to me and want to also be as consistent as I am.”

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Now, as Zuhlke is in her second season with the Hawkeyes, she has become just that.

“She does the damage on the [down low],” Libby said of Zuhlke. “She has no clue how good she is, and she’s very humble about what she’s capable of. You can tell that she’s uncomfortable with celebrating herself, but she will go nuts for her team.”

Zuhlke competes in three events and consistently contributes to the team score. On vault, she competes a skill named after her: the Zuhlke 2.

“I’m still wrapping my head around the idea that I have my own vault,” Zuhlke said. “It’s still crazy to me, even though I’ve been doing it for quite a while.”

Zuhlke discussed how the inspiration behind the vault came from a mental block she had on the more common Yurchenko skill in club gymnastics.

“I would just stop going for it,” Zuhlke said. “I wouldn’t go backwards anymore.”

Knowing she still had to compete vault, her coach came up with a new vault — one no one had done before — which would allow her to do a front-entry vault.

“I walked into practice one day, and my coach was like, ‘Try a front handspring and then a Tsuk and then a flip off,’” Zuhlke said.

Zuhlke was excited to try something new, even though most people consider her vault scary.

“I’m pretty open to trying new things,” Zuhlke said. “I really don’t think it’s that scary, but a lot of people think it’s terrifying. It worked for me because I thought Yurchenkos were terrifying.”

The Zuhlke 2 is rewarded a 10.0 start value for its difficulty and Zuhlke has come close to pulling it off perfectly. On Feb. 24, Zuhlke scored a 9.9 to earn herself a career-high score. Libby applauded Zuhlke’s work on all events.