Newly minted La Salle head wrestling coach Richie Gebauer summed it well.

"In no way am I going to fill the shoes of Vic Stanley," Gebauer, 28, said last week. "Vic has had probably more success than anyone coaching at the high school level here in Pennsylvania."

Stanley, of course, is the guy who delivered four Catholic League trophies, three District 12 titles, and steered four Explorers to medals at the state championships the last six seasons. Stanley retired in March after 44 years as a head coach, a career that included 481 victories, one team state title, and five individual state champs.

"I'm stepping into something I didn't have a hand in building. I'm acquiring something that I feel lucky [to have]," said Gebauer, who assumed the La Salle post this summer after one year as an assistant under Stanley.

Gebauer will rely on longtime Stanley assistant and now associate head coach Anthony Panzarella in his first year as a head coach anywhere. It's an opportunity to lead the most prominent District 12 team ever, a program that has been a mainstay at the state tournament ever since it was eligible to compete a few years ago.

Yet, it's a bit of a rebuilding year for La Salle. The team lost some things: Joe Mazzi, the school's all-time wins leader, to graduation; Pennsylvania's No. 1-ranked 170-pounder, Shane Springer, who transferred to Norristown; and P.J. Steinmetz, an upper-weight standout, who also transferred out of La Salle, to Council Rock South. Richie Cerebe also swapped schools, moving to Phil-Mont Christian.

The transfers, in particular, hurt the lineup.

"You're not excited about it. . . . It was definitely hard to hear," Gebauer said.

There are a few stalwarts still on the roster, however, and topflight guys at that. Penn commit Casey Kent and Drexel signee Matt Cimato both have legitimate chances at individual state titles this year. Senior Bryan Pflanz, as of Sunday, had 98 career victories and counting.

The team is competing at area tournaments until its PCL opener on Jan. 4 vs. Conwell Egan. Father Judge figures to be La Salle's stiffest competition in the league this year, but the Explorers are still the favorite to win a fourth-straight title.

If Gebauer needs any advice, he knows where to go.

"I talk to Vic probably every week," he said.

Hawks go big. The addition of Steinmetz to Council Rock South's lineup epitomizes why the Golden Hawks will remain a District 1 powerhouse this season.

A South lineup gutted by graduation started six wrestlers with zero varsity experience when it opened the season at the Nazareth Invitational on Dec. 10. Somehow, it still won the event.

Look to guys like Steinmetz, a 195-pounder, for one of the reasons why.

South is stronger in the heavier divisions than ever this season.

In addition to Steinmetz, a junior who went 31-9 at La Salle last year, South boasts seniors Tim Riley (220-pounder and 2009 state qualifier) and Tommy Trampe (heavyweight, defending sectional champ).

A program typically highlighted by its lower- and middle-weight classes, South seems to have more depth in the heavier divisions as it pursues a sixth straight District 1 North title this year.

"I don't know if we've ever had this many high-caliber kids up top," head coach Brad Silimperi said.

Matchup of the week. A battle of top-ranked 120-pounders battle on Thursday: West Chester Henderson's Jim Long (No. 6 in the state in the PA Power Rankings) will take on West Chester Rustin's Corey McQuiston (No. 3) in a dual meet at Rustin, 7:15 p.m.

Contact Evan Burgos

at rallysports@phillynews.com.