Reading the game with Ginger Fontenot

The fourth-year defender on the women’s soccer team chats about her competitive drive, the charge of a center-back, running five to eight miles per game, playing at home, her favorite memory, and her favorite movie.

Ginger Fontenot, wearing a Penn sweatsuit, holds a soccer ball inside a goal at Penn Park.
Image: Eric Sucar

The women’s soccer team surrendered only 0.81 goals per game this past season—third best in the Ivy League—thanks, in part, to the tenacious defensive play of fourth-year center-back Ginger Fontenot.

A native of Camarillo, California, Fontenot (pronounced Font-e-no) started all 13 games she was available. She logged 1,079 minutes, sixth-most on the team, and was Penn’s only First-Team All-Ivy honoree. The Quakers shut out five opponents and held eight opponents to one goal.

“Ginger is a phenomenal soccer player,” said Krissy Turner, the Douglas N. Brush Head Coach of Women’s Soccer, after Fontenot received her All-Ivy recognition. “She had a standout season and deserved this recognition in what is one of the best leagues for women’s soccer in the country.”

Ginger Fontenot holds a soccer ball in her hands while leaning up against a goalpost at Penn Park.
Image: Eric Sucar

Originally recruited as a forward, Fontenot played outside-back as a second-year before transitioning to center-back for her third-year season. She says the transition was smooth, and her performance showed as much; she was a Second-Team All-Ivy selection in 2022.

Penn Today sat down with Fontenot, who is double majoring in cinema and media studies and communication in the School of Arts & Sciences, to discuss her competitive spirit, the charge of a center-back, running five to eight miles per game, playing at home, her favorite memory, and her favorite movie.

When did you start playing soccer? I started doing clinics when I was about 4 years old, mainly so I had something to do while my older sisters played soccer. I kind of just filtered through the club system and now I’m here. I think I played my first game when I was 6.

Ginger Fontenot kicks the ball down the field during a home game.
Image: Penn Athletics

What do you enjoy about the sport? I like to get stuck in on tackles. I like those one on one battles and really tough matchups. That’s kind of what gets me going. I’m just a really competitive person so any chance I get to one-up somebody on any play is like a win for me. I’m also really big on rhythm. I feel like I get energy and confidence through movement. When you’re passing the ball around—one, two, touch, and it’s quick, and it’s fast, and you’re sharp—it’s the best feeling ever. It’s almost like you get a runner’s high a little bit when that happens. Things just click.

You ran track in high school. Obviously, there’s a lot of running involved in soccer. Has your track background aided your soccer career? Absolutely. I ran track up until my junior year of high school. In the spring, I was always doing double practices, soccer and track, and I basically did that for 10 years. It was always a really tough time on my body, but I really enjoyed it. I was always in the best shape of my life during that time, and it was nice to have something other than soccer that I could compete in and really work on myself. You need to be in shape to play soccer. We run like something between five to eight miles a game sometimes. It is really important to be in shape. If you have that supplement, it obviously helps. It obviously helps to be fast, too.

Ginger Fontenot kicks the ball midair during a home game.
Image: Penn Athletics

What is your job as a defender/center-back? Do you have an assigned person that you guard or is it more guarding an area? It’s more zone, I would say. As a center-back, your job is to communicate and organize the defense and your midfielders just so it makes your job easier, just like the defender’s job is to make the goalie’s job easier. So you’re organizing, marking, tracking runners. Sometimes you are in a situation where you’re matched up one on one with their center-forward. Other times, you’re tracking a really deep run, so you’re covering depth. If somebody gets beat, you’re the one that’s supposed to slide in and either delay or disrupt the play.

How do you determine for yourself if you had a good game or not? That’s tough, I’m really hard on myself. If I can say that I won my matchup, I think that I had a good game. Beyond that, I would say, did I keep possession for my team? Did I have a good attitude the entire game? Those are things I would try to look for because I never want to be that person on the field that is making everybody panic. And that’s something I’ve worked on because center-backs are in a position of leadership.

You mentioned the physicality involved in being a defender. Have you ever been carded? I think I’m a pretty clean player, actually.

Ginger Fontenot fights for the ball against a Temple player during a home game.
Image: Penn Athletics

Not carded for being a dirty player, but for like an accidental foul. Some typical soccer tackles look a little rough. Honestly, I’m not sure what qualifies as card-able. I’ve had fouls called on me a few times. I can’t remember the last time I got carded. It probably was sophomore year. I’ve been carded before but not a lot in the college game. But accidents happen. Sometimes you just get caught behind the play and somebody trips over. Those things happen and if it’s close enough to the goal, you can get a card. There’s also getting a card intentionally where we need to slow the play down, and we need time to regroup and have a chance to get the ball back.

Like an intentional foul in basketball? Exactly, like a tactical foul. I don’t think I’ve been in a situation where I needed to do one of those, but those things happen.

Ginger Fontenot celebrates and hugs her teammates.
Image: Penn Athletics

You only lost four home games in your Penn career. Why do you think the team has had so much success at Rhodes Field and Penn Park? Everyone loves playing at home. We get to be in our own environment. The locker room and our routine and being comfortable matter to us, and just having that home game energy. It’s familiarity and also just pride. We always say we don’t lose at home, and I think we try to take that mindset into every game.

Do you have a favorite memory from your Penn career? It was either the Yale game my sophomore year [Penn won, 4-0] or the Brown game this year. My family was there for the Yale game, and it was around my birthday. It also rained for like 20 minutes. It was super good vibes, and it was fun to win in front of my family. The Brown game was really tight, and our team played so well. I think we were all so proud of our performance that day. Even though we didn’t get the results we wanted, we were right there, inches away, from tying or even winning that game [Brown won 2-1 and finished undefeated in the Ivy League]. I had so much fun because I loved my matchup. It was really competitive and gritty, and I love that part of the game. I love fighting for those battles. You don’t get the opportunity to play a talent like Brittany Raphino [the three-time Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year] all the time. It was awesome.

Ginger Fontenot poses with her fellow seniors before Senior Night.
Ginger Fontenot and her fellow fourth-years pose before Senior Day. (Image: Penn Athletics)

One of your majors is cinema and media studies. What’s your favorite movie? “Gladiator.”

With Russell Crowe? Yes.

That’s a great movie. It is a great movie. I’ve been trying to get my teammates to watch it since I’ve been here, and they have refused. But I just found out one of them is actually obsessed with it as much as I am, so we’re going to figure it out.

I think they’re working on a sequel. They are! Paul Mescal is going to be it, so that’ll be fun. I wonder what the story is going to be. It’ll be interesting.

You still have a year of eligibility left from the COVID year, although you can’t play at Penn. Do you plan on using it? I’m in the portal right now, so I will be using my fifth year. I haven’t made a decision yet. I’m still talking to schools and going through that process. But I’m really excited about what’s to come.

Ginger Fontenot, wearing a Penn sweatsuit, sits on the field at Penn Park beside a soccer ball.
Image: Eric Sucar