Lying on the turf at the Maryland Soccerplex in Germantown, Nicole Johnson knew the feeling all too well. While playing in a Labor Day club tournament, the National Cathedral senior was defending on the ball when she had tried to cut left, but her right leg stayed behind and she tumbled down awkwardly.

Johnson tore her right ACL on the play, effectively ending her final high school season before it started. The University of Virginia recruit missed her entire junior season at the District private school with the same injury in her left knee.

“It wasn’t as painful as last time,” Johnson said, “but it was just as disappointing.”

Johnson, a midfielder, suffered her first knee injury at the end of a sophomore season in which she earned second-team All-Met honors. By the middle of last high school season, she began practicing but was not ready to suit up for the Eagles.

Back at full strength last winter, Johnson solidified her status as a college prospect playing on the club circuit with the McLean Power. She picked Virginia in May.

Johnson’s return to fourth-ranked National Cathedral (2-0) this fall was expected to boost a squad that already returned nine starters. Instead, she’ll have to support the Eagles from the sideline as she prepares for surgery next month and begins rehab.

After a longer-than-expected recovery process from the first injury, Johnson hopes to be back on the field within six months of surgery this time.

“They say that the right knee’s easier to rehab,” said Johnson, who is right-footed. “I think I’ll be more aggressive with it this time, so I’m hoping to get on the field in time for [the] college [season] and stuff like that. That’s what I’m preparing for on now.”

Even without Johnson, National Cathedral has plenty of firepower on the offensive end, entering the season among the favorites to challenge for the Independent School League AA title.

The Eagles went 15-2 last season but failed to claim a banner. Sidwell Friends went unbeaten in the regular season, and Georgetown Visitation made an unlikely run to the tournament championship, knocking off both the Quakers and the Eagles along the way.

Senior Emily Hester, a second-team All-Met pick, anchors the middle for National Cathedral with help from senior Tori Hanway.

Sophomore forward Marta Sniezek scored a pair of goals in the team’s 3-0 win over the Cubs on Tuesday, which avenged a penalty-kick loss in last season’s tournament final. Freshman goalie Erica Sanders, one of the first-time starters, has posted a pair of shutouts.

Coach Danielle Malagari — a three-time All-Met player at Good Counsel — is another new face, taking over the team this season after three years at Holy Child. She replaces longtime Coach Richie Burke, an England native who left this summer to become an assistant for a pro team in Scotland as part of a requirement to secure his National “A” coaching license.

“I have really big shoes to fill,” Malagari said. “When I was playing against Richie and as a coach, I’ve had nothing but respect for him. He’s done great things for this program and he’s really instilled a tradition of winning. That’s exactly what I want to continue on.”

The Post Top 10

Senior Midge Purce tallied six goals and two assists in Good Counsel's first three games. The 2011 All-Met Player of the Year will now miss approximately a month while representing the United States at the U-17 World Cup in Azerbaijan. Bishop Ireton downed four-time defending Maryland champion Bethesda-Chevy Chase, 2-1, on Friday at the McDonogh Invitational. The Barons were scheduled to also play Good Counsel at the event, but the game was wiped out by storms and will not be rescheduled.

(Records through Tuesday)

1. Good Counsel (3-0) LW: 1

2. Spalding (2-0-1) LW: 2

3. O’Connell (3-0-1) LW: 4

4. National Cathedral (2-0) LW: 3

5. Sidwell Friends (2-0) LW: 6

6. River Hill (4-0) LW: 7

7. Bishop Ireton (2-0) LW: 9

8. Bethesda-Chevy Chase (2-1) LW: 5

9. Broadneck (1-0) LW: 8

10. Holy Cross (4-0) LW: NR