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SHE MAINTAINS BALANCE ON, OFF COURT

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Twenty summers ago, Sondra "Soni" Adams was preparing to enter her sophomore year at the University of Utah, where she played in three sports. This summer, Soni is carefully packing all her red and white paraphernalia into boxes and is now dressing in new colors.

The former All-American Ute basketball player is about to begin her first year as head coach of the women's basketball team for the blue and white of Brigham Young University.Anybody familiar with the intense sports rivalry between the two schools from Salt Lake City and Provo might call this treason. Anybody, that is, but Soni.

In the summer of 1974, between her freshman and sophomore years at the U., Soni had an experience with BYU that changed her life.

She enrolled in a monthlong BYU survival trip that took her to the deserts of southern Utah. During her journey in the Utah wilderness, she not only learned how to survive without the conveniences of everyday life, but her trials taught her the importance of prayer, and she gained a testimony. She called it the "changing point" of her life.

"It's when I really cemented my testimony of the gospel," she recalled of her experience, which included sleeping several days without a blanket, long hikes under the desert sun and searching for drinking water.

"When you hadn't had water for a day, boy, you'd pray for water. You'd pray for guidance and you'd find water, and before you'd drink the water you would get on your knees.

"It really taught me to be grateful and to realize how much the Lord has a hand in everything you do."

Her biggest challenge of the monthlong trip produced the biggest reward. For the last 31/2 days, Soni left her group and was forced to survive on her own.

With only a little pack of food, she decided to make good use of her time. Over the three-day period, she read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover for the first time.

"That's where I read the whole Book of Mormon and prayed about it, and that's where I really received a testimony. It just changed me," she said.

"It was just an unbelievable experience. It changed my life, and I think because of that, because of my association with BYU for that month out in the southern Utah deserts,

BYUT became really dear to my heart. I couldn't be a diehard and hate the Y. because it changed my life.

"It was such an amazing experience to me. It's where I learned you can accomplish anything if you have the Lord's help - any righteous desire. Deep down I've always kind of loved the Y. because of that."

But despite her love for what she learned during that experience, she still loved beating BYU during her career at Utah. "BYU was the team to beat . . . it was a pretty big rivalry," she said.

BYU wasn't the only school Soni played well against during her college career. In 1976, she helped lead the Utes to a seventh-place finish at the Association for Intercollegiate Women Athletics national tournament. That same year, she was named first team All-Conference and was selected as a District 7 All-American.

Originally from Salt Lake City, the new BYU coach stands 5 feet, 9 inches tall. She began her basketball career as the starting center for the Utes but later switched to forward and then guard. She led her team in scoring as a freshman (15.6 ppg) and as a sophomore (12.8 ppg). She still ranks fifth in all-time free-throw percentage (.830) in the Utah history book.

Ironically, she originally wasn't offered a basketball scholarship. She entered the U. not even realizing that the school had women's sports until a friend prompted her to play. She started as a softball player, then played volleyball and basketball.

After her four-year basketball career at Utah, Soni followed her lifelong desire to serve a mission. She served in the England, Birmingham Mission from December 1977 to July 1979.

She comes from what she calls a "stalwart family." Her parents, Ted and Beverly Decker Adams, always taught the importance of living the gospel, accomplishing a lot and how to love. Her two brothers, Decker and Mark, and her sister, Julie, also served missions.

"My mom managed to get a Ph.D. when she had four young kids," Soni said. "She always believed in being the best you could be with the philosophy that you need to be accomplishing something and not wasting time. She's been my driving force. I just admire her so much.

"My dad is the one who taught me how to love. He just loved everyone," she said. Her father passed away several years ago.

Soni tries to show that kind of love for the players she coaches now.

"When you're coaching, if you don't love your players and let them know that you really care about them, you're not going to get as much out of them. These kids are so great, I can just try to love them along, and they are just like family."

Coach Adams started her coaching career at the U., assisting her former coach Fern Gardner for two seasons. Fern, who is now the U.'s senior associate athletic director, was one of Soni's heroes as a child.

"Soni's a wonderful person. I can't say enough good about her," said her mentor. "I've given her a hard time about going to BYU, but I think she'll do well there. . . .

"I don't believe there's a greater move for Soni. I'm really proud of her."

After coaching with Utah, Soni spent seven seasons as an assistant coach at Eastern Washington, where she earned a master's degree in college instruction with an emphasis on physical education.

For the past four years, she has been the basketball coach at Salt Lake Community College, where she compiled a 77-37 record. Last year, SLCC finished second in the Scenic West Athletic Conference and lost in the conference tournament championship game to Ricks College.

Each coaching experience has taught her valuable lessons that have prepared her for the BYU coaching position. She is quick to thank the Lord for His guidance in her life through these moves, even when they were at times difficult.

"The Lord prepares you. He knows more than you do about where you should be. It's pretty neat; it's humbling."

And now that the road has led her to Provo, she is thrilled to coach in the Marriott Center for BYU.

"This opportunity is something I've looked forward to and have hoped for during most of my professional career," she said shortly after having been hired by BYU this summer.

"My personal philosophy of basketball and of life fits the goals of the women's basketball program at BYU. My competitive spirit lends itself to winning, but I also understand the importance of keeping a balance in life.

"I was born and raised in red and white, but it was always in my heart or in the back of my mind that this would be a great place to coach."

Through all her successes on the court, Coach Adams is still quick to keep life's purpose in perspective off the court.

"The gospel of Jesus Christ is the most important thing in my life."