For Villanova, the 83d Penn Relays began today in typical fashion. The Wildcats, for the 12th straight year, caputred the distance-medley relay.

For Fletcher James of maryland, Reggie Sojourner of Howard, Bill Plank of Georgetown Prep and Gerard Schultz of Muhlenberg, there was less reason to rejoice.

James Manning, the third leg of Maryland's potent shuttle hurdles relay team, ran through the last hurdles, fell and then dove across the exchange line. Despite his problems, the Terrapins were second in their heat at 60.9 seconds. They did not, however, qualify for Saturday's final as Tennessee, anchored by T. C. Williams graduate John Johnston, clocked the fastest time, 57.1.

Sojourner, awaiting the baton pass in lane nine for Howard's strong 800-meter relay team, was shocked to see lead off man Gosnell White coming in lane one. In his rush for the baton, chaos reigned and a rerun was ordered. The second time around, with everyone in lane nine, Sojourner's pass to No. 3 man Ernie Waiters was bobbled so long that the distressed Bison were disqualified.

Plank, expecting a command start in the high school distance medley, was stunned to hear the gun. He found himself at the rear of the bulky field and only some adept dodging brought him to the first exchang e in 1:57.1 for the 800 meters.

David Saunders, 48.5 for the 400; Anthony Desir 3:08.3 for the 1,200 and achorman John Donegan eventually pulled Prep in front, but Vin Musarelli of Mt. St. Michael's High of New York passed Donegan before the finish and Prep settled for second.

"Nobody told me," Plank said. "That was incredible when the gun went off. I had no idea where I was all race. I'd cut through this guy and around these guys."

Donegan ran his anchor 1,600 (10 yards short of a mile) in 4:15.3. That wasn't bad, but he couldn't match the performance of Kevin Byrne, from Paramus (N.J.) Catholic, who ran 4:04.1 to bring his school from 11th to third. Byrne will enroll at Georgetown University in the fall which explains the smile on the face of Hoya coach Joe lang despite his team's awful distance-medley effort.

Schultz, the Mules' 1,600-meter leadoff man, dropped the baton when the gun went off. But he wasn't much worse off than Maryland's Andre Lancaster, disqualified for a false start in the invitation 100 meters.

On a positive note, H.D. Woodson and Surrattsville were among six qualifiers for Saturday's high school 400-meter elay championship. Woodson clocked the third best time, 41.93, and Surrattsville posted 42.48 despite the absence of star sprinter Marvin White with torn ligaments. Springarn, Anacostia, Eastern, Fairmont Heights and Carroll won heats, but their times were not fast enough to qualify for the final.

June Smith of the D.C. Striders won the women's 400-meter hurdles in 61.11 seconds, but he Striders' distance-medley team was overhauled by te New York AC after Stan Vinson (1:48.6 for 800) and Billy Hicks (47.4 for 400: had built a 35-yard lead.

darryl Anderson's 46.9 anchor 400 carried Navy to a seven-yard decision over Army in the Heptagonal 1,600-meter elay. Bruce Prutzman (48.6), Danny Ray (48.9) and Jeff Colvin (47.3) put the Mids in a contending position, then Anderson overhauled Mike Schaefer.

Navy ran faster than it desired in the sprint medley qualifying, as Anderson, Eli Turner, Colvin and Tim Rose were timed in 3:22.5 to win a berth in the championship, bumping seventh-ranked Howard (3:22.9). The Mids would have preferred a shot at IC4A consolation watches without the presence of intimidating Villanova (3:17.8) and Adelphi (3:19.2).

Maryland's Greg Robertson (14.03 seconds) had the best time among qualifiers for Saturday's 110-meter high hurdles final. Teammate Rod Chesley (14.29) also reached the final. The Terrapins' 800-meter relay team emerged as a finalist in 1:25.1, although Arizona Sate (1:22.0) and Tennessee (1:22.1/ are in another class.

Besides maintaining its distance-medley grip and showing sprint-medley gold peotential, Villanova had the fastest 1,600-meter time, 3:06.3, with unpressed favorite Arizona State advancing in 3:06.9. Howard,M its star, Richard Massey, hampered by an injured leg, missed the final with 3:10.6.

In the distance medley, Mark Belger brought the Wildcats intot he lead by running 2:50.1 on his 1,200-meter leg. That's the equivalent of a 2:51.2 three-quarters and nobody has run faster here. Phil Kane held off Tennessee's David Lapp (3:57.0 for 1,600) to extend the Relays longest victory string another notch.

Mike White of Philadelphia's bartram High cleared every height on his first attempt through 7-1 to set a meet record in the high jump.

Both Federal City and Howard reachedthe final of the women's 400-meter relay, with Morgan State's 47.9 the best qualifying time.