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Irish win over Virginia should bring overdue respect in coaches poll

Notre Dame entered the 2022 women’s soccer season ranked 16th in the NCAA Women’s Soccer Coaches Poll. Five weeks later, after a 7-1-0 start that matches some of the best in program history, the team currently sits in the rankings at a nonchalant No. 18.

In the four polls between that preseason ranking and the most recent edition, Notre Dame has jumped around at a ridiculous clip. After winning their first two games, the Irish fell to unranked status ( after being incredibly jumped by the likes of Wisconsin, who drew their opening game).

With a point to prove, Notre Dame cruised past No. 19 St. Louis and Illinois by a combined score of 6-0. Sure enough, they were rewarded with a ranking of No. 16 in the week two poll. Following a 4-1 dismantling of previously ranked Wisconsin, the Irish moved up to 12th. Then the week after that they progressed to sixth, staying in the win column once again.

But then disaster struck. The Irish, after being one of the five programs in all of women’s soccer to start 7-0-0, lost a game. On the road to a ranked opponent, no less.

This loss sent Notre Dame tumbling down to 18th in this week’s coaches poll, behind the likes of (among other teams), Penn State (one loss and two draws), TCU (two losses and two draws), Pepperdine (one loss and two draws), St. Louis (who you might remember from earlier in this article as having lost to Notre Dame in St. Louis), Northwestern (one loss and one draw to 3-1-6 Oakland) and South Carolina (one loss and three draws). 

Some of this, you might imagine, could be due to the other teams having a stronger strength of schedule. Their worst records perhaps came because they were playing better teams. This would be a fair defense if it were true. Per wosoindependent.com, Notre Dame leads the country in adjusted RPI and is second in unadjusted RPI. Those measurements that rank teams based on their wins, losses and strength of schedule. Only No. 1 UCLA ranks above them in the latter department.

This isn’t to say the Irish should have moved up into the top five following their loss to Clemson. But their drop of 12 spots is ridiculous and exposes the flawed nature of the coaches’ poll. The Irish have played at a fairly consistent clip week in and week out this season. But they’ve never come in within three spots of their previous ranking in each new edition of the poll. And after losing one game (on the road to a team ranked in the top 15, no less), the Irish fell below more than a half dozen different teams with worse records.

Thankfully, Thursday night Notre Dame showed why games are decided by how teams play on a field and not how they are ranked in a poll. With No. 2 Virginia in town, their schedule offered the Irish a perfect chance for redemption.

And prove a point they did, dispatching the Cavaliers emphatically in front of an excitable Alumni Stadium crowd. Controlling the tempo of the match throughout, the Irish held a Virginia offense to a single shot on target. And just days after that same offense found the back of the net three times against another College Cup contender in North Carolina to boot.

With the win, the Irish now once again, with perhaps not-so-baited breath, await their ranking for week six of the Coaches Poll. With the win over Virginia now in hand, the Irish seem destined for yet another roller-coaster ride in the poll. It will nearly certainly make this week the sixth straight one Notre Dame moves up or down at least four spots in the rankings.

Such a tumultuous first month of the season only goes to expose the poll’s biggest flaw: its recency bias. There were not 17 teams with no losses to go ahead of the Irish in last week’s poll. There certainly weren’t 17 one-loss teams with better resumes. But Notre Dame happened to be the most recent to lose, and that was the metric that mattered most.

Now, recent top-five win in hand, the Irish are in line for a likely drastic rise in ranking. Perhaps on some level, it will be a correction. An apology from the pollsters for dropping Notre Dame so harshly last week. But it is also because Notre Dame will be one of the most recent teams to deliver a statement win.

Which, of course, will be great news for the program. There will be celebrations. Prior snubbery will be forgiven. But it will also be another reminder, this time thankfully with a positive result for Notre Dame, that the coaches’ poll is in its present state is a largely flawed metric.

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