Good Counsel girls’ soccer Coach Jim Bruno cancelled practice Friday, telling his players to enjoy the break to begin the Labor Day weekend. With his 25th regular season just days away, Bruno had seen enough from the squad to know they’d be ready to go.

“It’s really amazing how hard they’ve been working,” Bruno said. “They’re outworking even last year’s group.”

It’s hardly a slight to last year’s edition of the Falcons — a squad that won its first 19 games and shot up the national rankings before falling in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinals — to compare the teams. Good Counsel’s starting lineup last fall usually included no seniors, and the team’s top 11 players — including reigning All-Met Player of the Year Midge Purce — return this season.

Although Purce, a speedy senior forward with 74 goals in three seasons, will miss about a month of the season while she represents the United States in the U-17 World Cup, the top-ranked Falcons enter the season as the clear team to beat in the region and on the short list of top squads in the country.

“They’re a lot more mature than they were last year,” said Bruno, who has compiled a Maryland-record 378 victories in his 24 seasons at the Olney private school. “They just do things better. The passing is better, the communication is better, they support each other better. All the little things we’ve been working on have started to come to fruition.”

Bruno “has maybe had teams with as much talent, but I don’t think he’s ever had one with this much depth,” added longtime O’Connell Coach Alberto Starace.

Last fall, the Falcons literally had Division I talent to spare as they plowed through their regular season unbeaten. Midfielder Whitley Bowman — one of five seniors in 2011 — struggled to crack the Falcons’ regular rotation. She now starts for Gardner-Webb University of the Big South Conference.

With Purce and All-Met junior Imani Dorsey (Duke) leading the offense and a defense anchored by Michigan-bound junior goalie Megan Hinz, Good Counsel made it to the top spot of the ESPN national poll by midseason and were also ranked in the top five of the NSCAA coaches’ poll.

“When Coach Bruno first told us last year [about the rankings], I think we just stared at him,” said senior midfielder Hollie Byer, a George Mason recruit. “We were pretty stunned like ‘Are you kidding me?’ because it’s not really something we’d thought about.”

Good Counsel had outscored its opponents 82-11 through 19 games — with a 2-1 win over nationally ranked McDonogh (Baltimore) included — before its season ended suddenly with a 2-0 home loss to Bishop Ireton on Nov. 3. Purce (red card) and Dorsey (injury) both missed the contest that stopped the team’s bid for a third straight WCAC title.

With a year to grow, the team has even more confidence this time around. The Falcons — who outscored their opponents 32-0 in the preseason — have added four freshman to the mix, including Nia Dorsey, Imani’s sister. Bruno said Nia Dorsey might start while Midge is on national team duty through the middle of next month.

Meanwhile, Purce, who orally committed to Harvard on Wednesday, received clearance from national team coach Albertin Montoya to play with her high school team before she leaves for Azerbaijan next week. She’ll be in uniform for Friday’s contest against national power Pennington (N.J.), the team's first opportunity to back up the lofty expectations.

“The kids over there are not cocky; they’re not arrogant,” said Severna Park Coach Todd Clark, whose team hosted the Falcons in a scrimmage last week. “They’re good and they know it, but they don’t make a big deal of it. ... It’s a classy program top to bottom.”

The Post Top 10

Traditional power Spalding stumbled a bit last season but still ended up in the IAAM-A title game. With nine starters back, the Cavaliers hope for a more consistent showing this time around. ... Bethesda-Chevy Chase also returns nine starters, including top scorer Eliza Doll, off the team that edged Severna Park in penalty kicks last fall to win its fourth straight state title. ... River Hill started its season strong with a pair of wins over the weekend at Tuscarora's Tournament of Champions, outscoring Urbana and Northern by a 9-2 combined score.

(Last year’s final record in parentheses)

1. Good Counsel (19-1)

2. Spalding (14-6-1)

3. National Cathedral (15-2)

4. O'Connell (9-5-1)

5. Bethesda-Chevy Chase (14-3-2)6

. Sidwell Friends (13-1-1)

7. River Hill (12-3-1)

8. Broadneck (12-2-1)

9. Bishop Ireton (12-3-1)

10. South River (11-4-1)