After attending Johns Hopkins University, her “dream school,” for a year, Ally Starks ’25 decided that a change of pace was in order. Burnt out, the Bloomington, Minnesota, native took a year off to focus on her mental health and coach volleyball. She switched from studying pre-med molecular and cellular biology at Johns Hopkins to majoring in exercise science on a pre-physical therapy track in the Morrison Family College of Health at the University of St. Thomas. Starks experienced the seamless way that St. Thomas welcomes transfer students.
What drew you to St. Thomas?
I wanted to stay in sports and the health care field, so I decided on physical therapy. I have torn both of my ACLs (fun fact!), so I have had extensive experience with physical therapy.
My mom went here and absolutely adored it, so I thought that my first step would be to look at St. Thomas. At Tommie Transfer Day, I sat in Dr. [Brett] Bruininks’ Human Physiology class, and I thought, ‘This is exactly what I want.’
I talked with Dr. Bruininks after class and I thought it was love at first sight with the program. I wasn't even a student here and he was invested in me. This is something that was lacking at my previous university. I didn’t feel that connection with professors and the campus. I transferred, and I am more in love with St. Thomas than I ever was when I first came here.
How’s it going studying exercise science at the Morrison Family College of Health?
I am just adoring everything about it so far. My professors are amazing. I have fantastic relationships with every single one of them. They have really helped me with this transition, and I’m also working in the Sports Science Institute, which I started in this summer. So that was really a great transition to campus. I've been working with Dr. [Paul] Mellick closely; he and Dr. Bruininks have really been my anchors here. I go to them with everything. They’ve been helping me out immensely. It’s been an amazing start to the year.
Tell me about the Sports Science Institute.
We work directly with the student-athletes here. Right now, we’re specifically working with women and men’s basketball as well as men’s hockey. We have done preseason testing, things like VO2 max testing, putting them on a treadmill set up with a mask, measuring physiological measurements to get a benchmark. We sit in on their practices; the players wear sensors that track things like their heart rate, how many times they’re sprinting, how many calories they’re burning, what percentage of the time they are in each of the heart rate zones. And the coaches can then use this information.
I run the tests and monitor the sensors.
What are your career aspirations?
I want to be a sports physical therapist, and as much as possible, I want to work with female athletes.
What are your thoughts on what it takes to be a successful physical therapist?
I think what it takes is a commitment to athletes, to the individual. Every single patient who comes in the door is going to be unique, so tailoring workouts and ways to approach problems is going to be different with each person. And being committed to that, learning from your patients, your coworkers, always striving to be the most knowledgeable, in that way you can give back to the patients.
You worked as a barista for a bit. What’s your go-to caffeinated drink?
It’s got to be a chai latte, no water, with whipped cream. It’s absolutely the best drink at Starbucks. I could drink it over and over again.
What did it take to be successful as the head coach of the Bloomington Volleyball Club?
I coached for them for three years, and this year I have a new coaching job at M1 Volleyball, a different club (still in Bloomington). I’m the head coach of the 15-3 team. I think energy is the single most important thing when it comes to coaching. Figuring out what it takes to get your team to have good energy and having good energy yourself; I’ll do cartwheels on the sideline.
I am the most excited person when it comes to my athletes. I think it’s so important, also to be connected with your girls, not just on a coach-player status, but as a mentor. Just fostering relationships, I think has been the most important part of what it takes. If you’re just a scary coach, how much respect will your athletes have for you?
You have a free Saturday afternoon – no homework or school duties. What does that look like to you?
My roommates are my best friends, so probably hanging out with them. Going to a hockey or football game. I love making soup, so eating soup and then watching my favorite show, which at the moment is “Jujutsu Kaisen,” an anime.
If you could have dinner with one famous person, who would it be and why?
Agatha Christie; I have read so many of her books, and I love every single one of them. Her brain must be so fun to pick apart. You can never guess where [the books] are going. I am a huge mystery fan. Usually, I can sense the twist coming, but I will never be able to predict where her books take you.