Soccer coaches want goaltenders who can control the ball with their feet as well as field players can. At Bowie High School, girls coach Gavin Casey found such a goalie this season the easy way--he moved senior Christine Tudja from defense to the net.

"It was basically mutual consent," Casey said. Tudja "was very valuable in the field and this year, she had been going to camps and showing a lot of interest [in playing goaltender]. She knew the position and said, 'I would like to play 'keeper next year.' "

Tudja has played a variety of defensive roles for the Bulldogs in her four years on the varsity team. She was the starting stopper last season. Now she gives Bowie an added dimension in the net--when Tudja has to dribble the ball or clear it out of danger with a kick, she can.

"We have never had a keeper that is capable of playing with her feet as far as pass-backs and playing the ball out," said Casey, who is in his fourth year with the team.

Tudja has other goaltending experience--she has been a reserve goalie for her club team, the under-17 Bowie Shooting Stars, for the past four years. She also plays defense for the Shooting Stars.

"There is something about [playing goalkeeper] that I enjoy better," Tudja said. "I get to see the whole field real well and see what everybody else is doing."

Tudja has made 21 saves this season and has yielded just one goal. She has recorded two shutouts, including an 11-0 victory over Parkdale on Friday.

Under Casey, the Bulldogs have been one of the Washington area's top teams (3-0 through last weekend) and have reached the Maryland 4A semifinals each year.

Tudja faced a challenge in Bowie's season opener, going against Spalding and their senior goalkeeper, Yasmine Alter. Alter also happens to be the starting goalkeeper for the Shooting Stars.

Tudja won the duel as Bowie defeated Spalding, 2-1.

"It made me a little nervous because I knew how good she is, but we came through on the field and I think that helped," Tudja said. The win "was kind of surprising, but I had confidence in my team and they were a big part of it."

Alter and Tujda have attended a goaltending academy in Ellicott City the past four years, working in sessions from April to June and October to December.

"It has helped me get quicker and keep my feet moving," Tudja said. "We work on a lot of stuff and we work really hard."

This season, Tudja is concentrating on playing corner kicks better and working on stopping breakaways.

"When there are defenders and forwards all around, you just have to aim for that ball and pray that it gets in your hands," Tudja said.

Most of the balls played toward Bowie's goal do wind up in Tudja's hands--a good sign that the transition from defender to goalkeeper is working out just fine.

"I do the miss the field sometimes, but it feels good to play that on my club team," Tudja said, "so I am getting a little bit of both."

CAPTION: Even in goal, Tudja's footwork is a major advantage. She can clear the soccer ball with ease. "I get to see the whole field real well," she said.

CAPTION: Bowie senior Christine Tudja's varied skills have come in handy. She has two shutouts and has yielded just one goal.