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Why a Kentucky girl is playing lacrosse for Spain at the World Cup in England

Marina Burke (7) played in 11 games for Centre as a freshman in 2017.
Marina Burke (7) played in 11 games for Centre as a freshman in 2017. Centre College Athletics

It’s rare for an athlete from Lexington to compete for a world championship in her sport.

It’s even more unique to see that athlete from Kentucky representing a country without “USA” on its jersey.

Yet those are Marina Burke’s circumstances as she plays for the Spanish National Team this week in the Women’s Lacrosse World Cup in Guildford, England.

Burke, a Lafayette High School graduate who played for Henry Clay’s club team in high school and just completed her freshman season at Centre College, spends her summers playing for Spain.

The sport is growing rapidly in her mother’s native country, and the Lexingtonian has been there helping to lead the expansion.

“My little brother played lacrosse, and I always spent the summers in Spain with my mom’s family, and when I got back, him and my dad had bought me a stick and they were like, ‘this is pretty cool you should check it out,’” Burke said.

In the summer of 2014, not long after Burke started playing lacrosse, she went to visit her mom’s family in Spain like usual. She did not want to lose the progress she had made in lacrosse so she looked around Spain trying to find a club team she could play on during the summer.

Most of the people Burke messaged told her they didn’t have any lacrosse activities in the summer, but in September there would be tryouts for the first Spanish National Team and that Burke should go.

“I was like, ‘well that would be cool, that sounds like something I want to do,’” Burke said. “I convinced my parents and they let me stay, so I took a bus down to Madrid, and I went to the tryouts.”

Burke ended up making the team and has played in every major international competition for Spain since.

“The next year (2015), we went to the European Championship, which was the first time Spain formed a national team, and it was the first international appearance of the country, so that was pretty cool,” Burke said.

Marina Burke, who recently completed her freshman year at Centre College, has scored one goal for Spain in the World Cup, against Latvia on July 13. Centre College Athletics

This summer’s Federation of International Lacrosse World Cup is the 10th since the event began in 1982 but the first for Spain.

Played every four years, the official world championship of women’s lacrosse features 25 teams this year, including the defending champion United States. The games are played at Surrey Sports Park, one of the best sports complexes in Europe.

“There’s like four different fields, there’s two large ones, one of them is especially large, it has all the flags, huge risers, and that one has like a pretty cool atmosphere,” Burke said.

When Burke is not on the field, she hangs out at the athletes village where she spends time with teams from other countries.

“We’re like right across from the Netherlands (at the World Cup’s living spaces), and we talk to them every morning, I see them out from my window, they wave all the time, they’re pretty fun,” Burke said.

As for the competition, Spain was placed in pool D with Latvia, Germany, Mexico and Japan. The teams are placed in pools based upon rank, so the best teams (United States, Canada, England, Australia, Wales and Scotland) are placed in group A while the lowest ranked teams play in pool E.

Spain finished pool play early Monday and lost to all four teams. Their closest contest was against Mexico, which beat Spain 8-7.

With this being the team’s second major international competition, head coach Nikki Briant isn’t concerned about wins and losses right now, but instead the growth she’s seen from the team since it first formed in 2014.

“From where we were at Europeans (Championships) two years ago, to even just scoring the ball, but the fact that as a team we believe that we can win games, it’s a huge progressive step to me,” Briant said.

Burke also shares excitement in seeing Spanish lacrosse’s progression.

“One of the players, she kind of started all of lacrosse in Spain and it’s finally picking up for her, so it’s super exciting to be a member of the team right now,” Burke said.

Spain will wrap up the World Cup by playing in the Diamond Division bracket to determine places 19-25. Spain will start Diamond competition against China on Tuesday.

Chris Leach: 859-231-1326, @chrisleach250

Women’s Lacrosse World Cup

When: Through July 22

Where: Guildford, England

Live updates: Follow @SpainLacrosse on Twitter.