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Championship's in the blood

By Michael Rand, Star Tribune, 03/11/11, 10:35PM CST


Duluth East's coach knows the thrill of a state title, an ember that burns within his son

Jake Randolph grew up watching videotapes of Duluth East’s state championships in 1995 and 1998. So the Greyhounds junior has seen the joy that comes from winning a championship. He’s heard plenty about it from his father, Mike, Duluth East’s coach during those two great runs and still the man behind the Greyhounds’ bench.

Jake is on the brink of doing it himself now. But he still hasn’t felt it.

Even after a 2-1 overtime victory over Edina in Friday’s Class 2A semifinals that sent the Greyhounds into Saturday’s title game for the first time since 2000, there is work to be done.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have two teams win it,” Mike Randolph said. “And there is one thing that is really exciting: The three or four minutes after winning a title. I told our guys, if you think [winning the semifinal] is exciting, imagine what it’s like to finish this.”

It’s so close. Tantalizingly close.

“For me, personally, to have my dad as a coach and share [this season] with him is really special,” Jake said. “I’ve watched highlight tapes since I was a kid. I’ve always dreamed of doing that. This is definitely the biggest chance we’ve had. I can’t wait.”

Jake is a 5-8 left-winger on a prolific line made up of three juniors. He entered the state tournament tied for the team lead with 27 goals, but the one he popped in with less than a minute left in the second period — an absolute missile of a one-timer — should have a star by it in the record book. Without it, the Greyhounds would have headed to the third period trailing 1-0 despite controlling so much of the play in the second period.

“That goal,” his dad and coach said, “got us to another level.”

Then again, this whole season has been a different level for Duluth East. Perhaps overlooked at times while metro powers Eden Prairie, Edina and Hill-Murray gained much of the acclaim, the Greyhounds quietly went about their business — playing one of the state’s toughest schedules, as usual — while building a rare chemistry often reserved for father-son teams.

“This is a special, special time for me, personally,” Mike Randolph said of coaching his son and so many of Jake’s friends. “I’ve known them since they’ve been Squirts.”

The Greyhounds lost 4-3 to Edina over the holidays — a game Mike Randolph remembers best for the multiple breakaways his team allowed. They hit plenty of other bumps along the way, but that’s all just preparation now — logs on a fire that now burns bright after three consecutive overtime playoff victories.

“I honestly don’t know,” goalie JoJo Jeanetta said of how he and his teammates survived so many make-or-break tests. “I just like to think I have no nerves at all. I like to think like that.”

If the Greyhounds pass one more test, maybe someday Jake will show his kids — Mike’s grandkids — a DVD of a 2011 championship.

“It’s unreal. We have one more game,” Jake said before adding that final phrase he kept repeating: “And I can’t wait.”

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