Draven Lukata helps Birmingham put on a show in City Section wrestling finals
In the words of his coach James Medeiros, if you get a chance to watch Draven Lukata wrestle, don’t blink. You might miss it.
Lukata, a Birmingham sophomore, took the mat at the first-place match in the boys’ 120-pound division at Saturday’s Los Angeles City Section wrestling finals with a mean mug plastered on his face.
Those sitting in the bleachers could’ve been forgiven if they turned their heads for a moment to have a brief conversation.
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But by the time they looked back, Lukata had pile-driven Bell’s Rodolfo Torres and pinned him in 25 seconds. Blink and you missed it.
“I just try to go after it,” Lukata said. “I’m nervous before, but in my head, I know I can beat them.”
Lukata, whose first wrestling match came just 10 months ago, was one of a slew of Birmingham wrestlers who proved themselves as legitimate state competitors with a city win on Saturday. The Patriots swept the field, with both the boys’ and girls’ teams earning the most points in the tournament.
Mainstays such as state-ranked Katie Gomez, Luiza Nogueira and Ethan Grubach all came away with quick victories via fall. But it was the fairly fresh faces, such as Lukata and senior Delamonte Barnes, who earned some of the most thrilling wins of the day.
The two don’t come from the most traditional wrestling backgrounds.
Lukata, who’d long trained in jiu-jitsu, found his way onto the team after his mother emailed Medeiros out of “dumb luck,” the coach said. Barnes, meanwhile, was a standout linebacker on Birmingham’s football team who’d finally given into calls to wrestle since his freshman year.
Now, with a combined 11 months of wrestling experience between them, they’re both headed to wrestle for state championships. Barnes managed to top Sylmar’s Adrian Olivares by an 8-4 decision in a back-and-forth struggle in the boys’ 195 division.
“I knew I already had the strength for it, but the skill wasn’t there,” Barnes said. “I’ve just been working this past month on that, adding it to my regimen, and I feel like [this win] is well-deserved.”
Medeiros has long stuck to a formula with his Birmingham program that hinges on one concept above all: technique.
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He places it above conditioning and toughness, and the fundamental approach took the Patriot boys to three straight city championships between 2018 and 2020.
When Lukata walked into Birmingham’s gym last season, he was plenty conditioned and plenty tough — but picked up moves faster than most.
Some kids are blessed with physical gifts, and others are blessed with wrestling intelligence, Medeiros said. Very few have both.
“He’s one of those kids,” Medeiros said of Lukata. “The sky’s the limit for him.”
Last season, Lukata dropped a few matches as he developed his wrestling legs. But just months in his career, he’s dominated this season, showcasing an intense and physical style that propelled him to an undefeated record through the first three tournaments of the year, per Medeiros.
Almost every time the sophomore gets into his stance, the realization hits his coach: he’s been doing this for 10 months.
“It’s, ‘Oh my gosh, he can really almost do anything,’” Medeiros said. “When he goes out on the mat, it’s like he’s going to war.”
Lukata wasted no time picking up his sword and shield on Saturday, leading a Birmingham charge in a rather new environment.
The city finals were held outdoors for the first time in history, courtesy of Birmingham’s football field. Six mats were laid out overnight across the turf, the winter chill leaving sheets of ice sparkling across the surface that had to be scraped off in the morning.
There was long a resistance to holding a tournament outdoors, Medeiros said, but the girls and boys of Birmingham were excited. One of Medeiros’ main gripes with wrestling was how confusing it could be to spectators — indoor matches being difficult to follow, with coaches and officials blocking eyelines — and he felt the elevated stands could make for more of an audience-friendly experience.
“I think it could be one of the coolest things to happen for wrestling in a while, for our section definitely,” Medeiros said earlier in the week.
At the end of the day, under the field’s lights rather than the glow of a gym, it was Birmingham who most often graced the winner’s podium.
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