The Hawks enter the tournament as Region XX champions, with a 39-6 record. They are seeded 14th in the 16-team, four-pool field. They open tournament play Monday at 2 p.m. against third-seeded Barton County (Kan.), followed by a match against sixth-seeded Kankakee (Ill.).
Pool play ends Tuesday for the Hawks with a match at 11 a.m. against Hill Junior College (Texas).
Each match consists of three-game sets. A team must win at least five games to advance past pool play.
History is against the Hawks. Over the years, Palmer said, the seedings have generally held true, with the top eight teams advancing.
"It will be tough," she said. "The good thing is that we don't have a lot of foreign players in our pool. That means it won't be as intimidating. In the past, we've only had one or two big players. This year, we're solid all around the floor."
Palmer has taken a relaxed approach to preparing the Hawks for this run at the nationals. She said she gave the players a few days off after winning the region title Nov. 3, and since has worked mainly on keeping them sharp and building confidence.
But when Palmer sizes up HJC's chances, it might all come down to size.
"Honestly, I think the biggest difference for us will be our size difference compared to the other teams we face," she said. "We can hit, serve, play defense and set we have all the pieces. But in size, we don't match up well. Kankakee and Barton County will be big and the Texas teams are usually quick."
The 1996 team may be the best HJC has sent to Miami in six years. The 1990 team won four games in pool play, the Hawks' best-ever showing, but failed to advance to the second round.
"We are not a one-person team," Palmer said. "We have a lot of hitters on this team, but the key is that we need them all to be on for this tournament. Nothing super-human, just to be on their game."
The strength of HJC's offense is the outside hitting of Eleanor Baker and Heather Aleshire. Julie Frazee and Toni Martin have been strong setters, opening up the rest of the floor for the Hawks.
"If Baker and Aleshire are hitting on the outside, it opens up the middle for us," Palmer said. "This team just needs to play its best down there. We can't afford any one or two players to be intimidated. They have to be able to think. They can't afford to wait one match to gauge the level of play."
Palmer is counting on dividends from the experience the Hawks gained during a rough road trip to Michigan. HJC dropped four matches - two-thirds of their losses all season - at the Michigan Challenge. One of the losses was to Kellogg (Mich.) Community College, which is seeded fifth at the nationals.
"I took our trip to Detroit as a plus," Palmer said. "Now this team will go down there ready for what they will face. We beat Kellogg in the first game of our match and were in there for the other two games. So that should help us take a `let me at `em' attitude about the tournament."
But if HJC is to have any success, it will come one point at a time.
"I won't be able to evaluate if we are on down there until the very last whistle," Palmer said. "This will all come down to points. I want them to get me all the single points they can. That's what I want them focusing on, and if they can keep focusing on the points, that will get us going in the direction we need to go."