The three schools that have dominated the women’s sprint relays this decade return for 2010 – LSU, Texas A&M and South Carolina. They will be joined by a host of talented challengers – Auburn, Texas, Clemson, Arkansas, Miami, Florida State, Penn State, UTech – and one surprising newcomer to the Relays, the Oregon Ducks.

Coach Pat Henry’s Texas A&M Aggies are defending champions at the Relays in the 4×1 and 4×2 and reigning NCAA outdoor champions in the 4×1, in which they set the collegiate record at last year’s championships, running 42.36, breaking the record of 42.59 set by LSU in winning the Relays in 2008. That record-setting group of Khrystal Carter, Porscha Lucas, Dominique Duncan and Gabby Mayo all return for this season, an imposing foursome. Lucas is reigning outdoor NCAA champion in the 200, while Mayo was indoor NCAA runnerup in the 60.

But at a meet in Eugene, Ore., earlier this month, Mayo had to bring A&M from behind on the anchor leg to defeat the hometown Oregon women, 43.89-44.13. It was a school record for Oregon, which ran the squad of Mandy White, Amber Purvis, Keshia Baker and Jamesha Youngblood. In the same meet, Purvis swept the sprints, running 11.38w/23.00.

A month ago at the NCAA indoor championships in Fayetteville, Ark., Oregon won the meet-ending 4×400, a final exclamation point on its first-ever indoor women’s team championship, in the process defeating the some of the sport’s signature sprint relay schools – Texas, LSU, South Carolina, Arkansas, A&M. The Ducks have entered the 4×1, 4×2 and 4×4 at the Relays. No West Coast school has ever won a women’s sprint relay championship at Penn.

Auburn, runnerup in last year’s Relays 4×1, has the nation’s leading collegiate time so far this season, running 43.38 at their own Auburn Classic. The Tigers are led by Sheniqua Ferguson and Nivea Smith, who finished 1-2 in the NCAA indoor last month. Ferguson, a junior from the Bahamas, won a silver medal in last summer’s World Championships, in the 4×1. Smith, a sophomore, is also Bahamian. They are joined in the relay by Shaquela Williams and Joanna Atkins. Atkins is reigning NCAA outdoor champion in the 400.

LSU has won the 4×1 at the Relays 12 times, the most of any school, the last time in 2008. The Tigers, coached by Dennis Shaver, have won a sprint relay race at Penn 18 of the last 19 years – missing only in 2005 – and have the most victories ever at Penn by a women’s program, 40. Villanova is 2nd, with 26.

LSU is reigning Relays champion in the sprint medley, an event they have won the last three years, anchored by the same runner, senior LaTavia Thomas. Thomas, who also ran at the Relays for West Catholic High School of Philadelphia, thus has the opportunity at a rare achievement – anchoring the same championship relay team four years in a row. It is believed that only Mark Belger of Villanova, who did so in the 4×8 in the 1970s, has ever accomplished that.

In the short relays, LSU has also won the 4×2 11 times, the SMR 5 times, the shuttle hurdles 8 times and the 4×4 twice. A year ago, LSU dropped the stick in the 4×1, and finished 3rd behind A&M and Auburn in the 4×2. The Tigers are led by NCAA sprint finalists Samantha Henry and Kenyanna Wilson.

Auburn was 2nd in both the 4×1 and 4×2 last year, although A&M won the 4×1 by a staggering distance, 43.10-44.13. The 4×2 was closer, 1:30.28-1:31.19, A&M’s time 2nd all-time at the Relays, 2nd only to LSU’s 1:29.78, which was run in 2003 and which remains the collegiate record.

A&M has won the 4×2 the last two years. It has never won the SMR, 4×4 or SHR at the Relays, but it has an excellent team entered in this year’s shuttle hurdles, where it will face off against three other excellent foursomes – Miami, Virginia Tech and Central Florida.

UCF, the defending champions at Penn, are led by Jackie Coward and Tiki James. Last year’s victory was the first-ever at Penn for the school.

Virginia Tech is led by the imposing Queen Harrison, NCAA indoor champion this winter and double hurdle winner at this weekend’s Atlantic Coast Conference Championships in 12.44w/54.66. She is the world leader in both events this season, with a legal 12.65 in the short hurdles, and is joined by teammate Kristi Castlin, who merely ran 12.59w for 2nd place at the ACC and also placed 2nd at the NCAA.

Miami has Ti’erra Brown – 12.70w and 55.55 at the ACC – and the Jameson sisters, Takecia and Tameka, both of whom ran on championship relay teams at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Maryland.

A&M counters all of this with a squad that includes two NCAA hurdle finalists of its own, Natasha Ruddock (12.97 PR) and Gabby Mayo (12.96).

Other contenders in the 4×1 and 4×2 include Clemson, winner of the ACC (44.36), led by freshman Stormy Kendrick, runnerup in both ACC dashes, and senior Kristine Scott; Florida State (’10 best of 44.57), led by the newcomer Marecia Pemberton, a freshman from St. Kitts and the ACC 100 champion, at 11.12w; South Carolina (44.23), led by LaKya Brookins; UTech (44.46) of Jamaica, Virginia Tech (44.76) and Houston (44.60).

Oregon, in addition to Purvis, a sophomore from California, counters with White (11.62w/23.82w), the quartermiler Baker (23.53w/51.29) and the longjumper Youngblood (24.34w). Baker broke open the NCAA indoor 4×4 with a big 2nd 51.1 leg and the Ducks were never challenged from there, winning in 3:32.97, a school record. Purvis, who has run 53.96, anchored.

The Jamaican school University of Technology, known as UTech for short, are defending champions in the 4×4, becoming the first Jamaican college to win a women’s relay at Penn. Christine Day and Stephanie McPherson return from that squad, which ran away with last year’s race, winning by 3 seconds in 3:30.61.

The fastest college team this outdoor season is Lance Harter’s Arkansas Razorbacks, who won Texas Relays in 3:31.20. They are led by Shelise Williams (52.01) and the freshman Stephanie Brown. LSU, 2nd at the indoor meet to Oregon, has run 3:31.46, A&M – anchored by Jessica Beard (50.56) – 3:32.94. Other contenders include Texas (3:32.98), nine-time winner of the event at the Relays; South Carolina (3:33.91), six-time winner but relegated to the College section a year ago; Virginia Tech (3:33.15); Penn State (3:35.38), the surprise 2008 champion at the Relays; Clemson (3:33.93), and Miami (3:35.58).

Arkansas has never won a sprint relay at Penn; Auburn has not won at the Relays since ’93, Clemson since ’92, Florida State since ’83, and Virginia Tech has never won.

In the SMR, challengers to LSU include Penn State, anchored by the steeplechaser Bridget Franek; Arkansas, anchored by the freshman Brown (2:05), and the home team Penn Quakers, likely to be anchored by Anna Aagenes (2:07).