Villanova athletes know that they have targets on their backs whenever they compete in the Penn Relays, representing the expectations of local fans as well as the goal of out-of-town teams to defeat them.

Those prospects are back for the Wildcats as the 118th edition of the world's oldest and largest relay carnival prepares for launch at Franklin Field.

"This is as big as it gets," Villanova men's track coach Marcus O'Sullivan said. "This is a rite of passage in my mind to go on to the next level in terms of experiencing that intensity, particularly if you're Villanova. There's more expectations put on you.

"All I try to do is encourage people to have fun when they're doing it because it's a tremendous experience. It's a lifelong experience."

The Wildcats hope to make memories Thursday in the women's distance medley relay when they try to get their ace, Sheila Reid, her first Penn Relays watch. Reid's outstanding career on the Main Line includes two individual NCAA track championships and two NCAA cross-country titles.

It won't be easy. Defending champion Georgetown, the reigning NCAA cross-country title-holder, is strong with anchor Emily Infeld. Tennessee is led by Channelle Price, the former Easton High star who has earned five carnival watches in her career, and Oregon will field a strong team.

"For many years, Villanova has kind of owned these [distance] races," Oregon coach Vin Lananna said. "We certainly respect their history and tradition and toughness. But we fully expect to compete as well as we can and give them and the others - they're not the only team - a run for their money."

The same four schools also will battle for the giant wheel trophy in the 4x800 and 4x1,500 relays, although it's possible that a team or two could decide to skip one and load up in the other.

Villanova's men will defend their title in Friday's distance medley relay with a new anchor, freshman Samuel McEntee, who ran the mile in 3 minutes, 57.86 seconds during the indoor season.

Texas A&M is one of the teams expected to contend. The Aggies, normally known for strong men's and women's sprint teams that have won 18 men's and women's Championship of America events at Penn, are loaded in the DMR and the 4x800.

And the Texas A&M sprinters will resume their rivalry with Louisiana State in the men's and women's relays.

Ameer Webb, the NCAA 200-meter indoor champion, will make his Relays debut.

"We have Michael Bryan and P.J. Hardy, both sophomores who were there last year," Texas A&M coach Pat Henry said. "So we bring a little bit of experience. But this is all underclassmen; we don't have a senior in the group."

On the women's side, LSU and Texas A&M own the two fastest times this year in the 4x100 and the 4x400. The Aggies have won four consecutive 4x200 relays at the carnival, but the Tigers are looking for their sixth straight win in Friday's sprint medley, which would be the longest streak by a women's team in the same relay.

Look for LSU's Kimberlyn Duncan and Texas A&M's Dominique Dunn to log multiple race duties.

The carnival once again will feature competition in the USA vs. the World relays on Saturday. Relay teams will be announced Friday.

Also, former Texas Christian star Bill Collins, now 61, won the 60, 200, and 400 in his age group at this year's World Masters Indoor Championships and will compete this weekend.