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Cameron Smith

Female wrestler is state champ after being too short for football

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To say that Tianna Camous set out to be a female wrestling trailblazer might be a bit of an overstatement. After all, if she was a bit bigger, she might have had things her way and played the sport she fell in love with as a girl: football.

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"I had no problem with the hitting or tackling," the 5-foot-3 Camous told the Fresno Bee. "But when you're trying to defend guys a foot taller, that can be a little difficult. They'd just reach right over me and catch the ball."

As a result, the aspiring Folsom (Calif.) High cornerback stopped her football career at the junior varsity level, deciding to focus on the sport she long considered as her "other" sport: wrestling. The dominant results that have followed have not only made her one of the state's best female wrestlers of all-time, they also made her the first wrestling state champion in her school's history when she captured the 122-pound title at the California Interscholastic Federation's inaugural Girls Wrestling Invitational Tournament on Saturday.

The event was the first girls wrestling state tournament in California, where girls compete in team meets both against other girls and, when not available, against male foes. California is one of only five states nationwide to offer girls-only tournaments, with Saturday's state invitational serving as the first state-wide event in the state's history.

By the end of the event, Camous' 2011 state-champion record stood at a perfect 38-0, following her 3-0 defeat of fellow senior Sabrina Samaniego. Perhaps more amazingly, the tenacious wrestler, a three-time All-American, has pulled off that feat despite wrestling on only one good leg for the past three seasons, a condition borne out of ligament tears in her left knee she suffered while playing freshman football at Folsom.

That injury has done little to slow down Camous, who earned a full-ride scholarship to wrestle at Missouri's Lindenwood University for the next four years. She trains with the Folsom boys wrestling team all season, using a rigorous workout routine that includes five seven-mile runs each week and multiple weekly sessions with a personal trainer at 5:30 a.m.

Given her dedication, it might be unsurprising that the senior has little patience or sympathy for the highly publicized Iowa case of Joel Northrup, who refused to wrestle a female competitor in the state's wrestling finals.

"I didn't read the article, and I personally don't care," Camous told the Bee. "If [Northrup] forfeited, that's on him."

Yet her coach, Mike Collier, said that Camous may provide an even more threatening dilemma for male wrestlers than was Iowa teen Cassy Herkelman.

"No one has refused to wrestle her, but you can tell that they are reluctant," Collier said. "Because of her success and reputation, they know that they not only have to wrestle a girl, but that there's a pretty good chance they're going to lose the match.

"It's really a no-win situation for them."

From here out, no boys will be able to forfeit matches against Camous, who will move on to face only female wrestlers at the collegiate level. Thanks to California's new tournament, she does so with the same honor she could have earned if she'd stuck with the school's state championship football team.

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