Kelsey Morrison shot a 77 on Thursday.
George Fox Athletics

DESTIN, Fla. -- With one round remaining in the 2013 NCAA Division III Women’s Golf Championship at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, George Fox is challenging for a national title, with Kelsey Morrison in the mix for the individual crown.

“We’ve definitely surprised some people,” George Fox head coach MaryJo McCluskey said. “I feel like we’re this little team from Oregon and people ... don’t know what we go through in the weather and they don’t know where our school is. I feel like we’ve surprised some people, but we haven’t surprised ourselves because we knew we were good.”

George Fox began Thursday’s third round in third place, six strokes behind Mary Hardin-Baylor and Texas-Tyler, which were tied for first. However, the Bruins stumbled a bit Thursday, losing ground after posting a collective 320, their highest total of the three rounds at Sandestin’s Baytowne Golf Club.

They now trail second-place UT-Tyler by eight strokes and Mary Hardin-Baylor by 15. UT-Tyler carded a 318 Thursday. Mary Hardin-Baylor shot the women’s low round of 311.

“We’re totally in it,” Morrison said. “I think our team can get it done for sure and I think this is the first team that we all actually believe we can get it done. We have a really special bond that I don’t think other teams have and I think that’ll get us the trophy [Friday].”

Morrison, a senior from Yucca Valley, Calif., zoomed up the individual leaderboard. She has held down second place behind UT-Tyler freshman Laura Lindsey and after Thursday's round she is only trailing Lindsey by three shots. Morrison shot a third-round 77 Thursday, her highest score this week.

“I think I can get it done, too,” Morrison said. “Of course, that’s what I want to do. So [Friday] I’m just going to play my game and other people can do their own thing, but I’ll be gunning for it.”

Named the 2012-13 Ping National Player of the Year by the Women’s Golf Coaches Association on Wednesday evening, Morrison was a unanimous selection, while also receiving her consecutive All-American honor.

As the runner-up to Olivia Lugar of Washington (Mo.) last year, Morrison deemed Wednesday’s award very sweet.

“It’s pretty cool,” she said, grinning.

Prior to this week, Morrison's stroke average (75.1) and score versus par (+2.89) were the best in DIII. She was the low medalist in eight of the 11 regular-season tournaments she played and at the NWC tournament, where she beat Whitworth's Emily Guthrie by eight strokes.

“Kelsey is by far the best player I’ve ever coached and I’ve been coaching for 14 years now,” McClusky said. “Her determination and commitment to the game is just beyond anyone I’ve ever coached.”

Prior to the national player award, Morrison's season highlight was being named the NWC Player of the Year for a consecutive season. She alluded to a memory from her freshman season when that season’s honoree — Methodist’s Susan Martin — received the award only hours after being disqualified in the second round for signing an incorrect scorecard.

Morrison and McClusky say the discrepancy was accidental; that a teammate of Morrison’s had helped Martin keep score, and that one or both forgot a stroke. Martin remembered it later, reported the error and was disqualified for the individual women’s championship. She remained eligible for the team competition.

To Morrison, Martin’s handling of the situation taught a team-first lesson.  

“[Martin said] how thankful she was and appreciative of the award, and she was going to play with joy and loved the game,” Morrison said. “As a freshman, I could barely break 90, so seeing her up there so happy [after] she just got disqualified and [couldn't] win was so inspiring.

“So standing up there [Wednesday] night was just a little surreal because she was up there and it was my goal all four years to get there.”

Both Morrison and her team are completing a memorable season. The Bruins won their fourth consecutive Northwest Conference title four weeks ago, clinching their fourth consecutive NCAA bid. They have finished eighth, 12th and seventh, respectively, in their three previous NCAA tournaments.

“I just feel like everybody really wants the whole team to do well instead of playing for themselves,” Morrison said. “And the team picture is bigger than the individual picture and that’s the only thing we can focus on, is the team.”