Birmingham hosts a show during the LA City Section Wrestling Finals

In the words of his trainer James Medeiros, if you get the chance to see Draven Lukata wrestle, don’t blink. You might miss it.

Lukata, a Birmingham sophomore, took to the mat in the boys’ 120-pound division first-place match at the City of Los Angeles Sectional Wrestling Finals on Saturday with a nasty cup stuck on his face.

Those seated in the stands might have been forgiven if they had turned their heads for a moment to have a brief conversation.

But by the time they looked back, Lukata had beaten Bell’s Rodolfo Torres and pinned him in 25 seconds. Blink and you missed it.

“I’m just trying to chase it down,” Lukata said. “I’m nervous before, but in my head I know I can beat them.”

Lukata, whose first wrestling match was just 10 months ago, was among a slew of wrestlers from Birmingham who proved to be legitimate competitors in the state with a victory in the city on Saturday. The Patriots swept the field, with 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 picked up quick wins in the fall. But it was the pretty fresh faces, such as Lukata and senior Delamonte Barnes, who picked up some of the most exciting wins of the day.

Both don’t come from the most traditional wrestling backgrounds.

Lukata, who had trained in jiu-jitsu for a long time, found his place in the team after his mother “bad luck” emailed Medeiros, the coach said. Barnes, meanwhile, was a standout linebacker for the Birmingham football team who had finally given in to calls for a fight since his freshman year.

Now, with a combined 11 months of wrestling experience between them, they are both headed to wrestling for state championships. Barnes managed to beat Sylmar’s Adrian Olivares by an 8-4 decision in a back and forth 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 on this for the last month, adding it to my regimen, and I feel like [this win] is well deserved.

Medeiros have long stuck to a formula with their Birmingham program that is based above all on one concept: technique.

He places it above conditioning and toughness, and the fundamental approach has taken the Patriot boys to three straight Urban Championships between 2018 and 2020.

When Lukata entered the Birmingham gym last season he was very conditioned and very resilient, but he picked up moves quicker 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 lost a few matches as he developed his wrestling legs. But just months into his career, he’s dominated this season, showing an intense, physical style that propelled him to an unbeaten record in the first three tournaments of the year, according to Medeiros.

Almost every time the second takes his position, realization hits his trainer: He’s been doing this for 10 months.

“It’s, ‘Oh my God, he really can do almost anything,'” Medeiros said. “When he comes 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 charge at Birmingham in rather new surroundings.

The City finals were held outdoors for the first time in history, courtesy of Birmingham Football Ground. Six mats were laid overnight on the turf, with the winter cold leaving sheets of glittering ice on the surface that needed to be scraped in the morning.

There has long been resistance to hosting an outdoor tournament, Medeiros said, but the girls and boys of Birmingham were excited. One of Medeiros’ main gripes with wrestling was how confusing it could be for spectators – with indoor matches difficult to follow, with coaches and officials blocking their eyes – and he felt the raised stands could provide a more user-friendly experience for the public.

“I think this might 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 lights of the pitch rather than the glow of a gymnasium, it was Birmingham who graced the winner’s podium more often than not.

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