Six female area high school athletes named finalists for LaRosa's MVP Award

CINCINNATI -- Six outstanding area female high school student-athletes have been named finalists for the 31st annual LaRosa's High School MVP of the Year Award for the 2016-17 school year.

The male and female winners will be announced at the annual Buddy LaRosa's Sports Hall of Fame Banquet June 25 in televised ceremonies at the WCET studios, with the telecast starting at 2 p.m. The male finalists are expected to be named next week.

Inaugurated with the class of 1987, the LaRosa's Male and Female MVPs of the Year awards are the oldest ongoing awards given annually in Greater Cincinnati to honor outstanding high school athletic achievement.

Here's a closer look at each nominated athlete with information provided by the LaRosa's selection committee:

Elle Buffenbarger, senior, Mason High School, softball

A three-year starting pitcher for the Comets, Elle Buffenbarger set eight school records during her prestigious career, including single-season wins (23), single-season strikeouts (253) and single-season shutouts (14).

Mason softball standout Elle Buffenbarger

Buffenbarger helped power Mason to the 2016 Ohio Division I state Final Four and the 2017 regional championship game. Mason compiled a 51-7 record over the last two seasons, much behind the effort of its star pitcher.

She was twice named Greater Miami Conference Player of the Year, was a two-time Ohio Division I all-state selection and was selected as the 2017 Greater Cincinnati Women's Sports Association Softball Player of the Year. Buffenbarger also was honored by the Ohio High School Athletic Association as recipient of the 2017 Archie Griffin Sportsmanship Award.

She was a member of the EuroCup 2017, where high school players from the United States competed against teams from France, Czechoslovakia and the Netherlands. She was voted best pitcher in the tournament, the first time in the 16-year history of the event that an American won that award.

Buffenbarger will continue her softball career on scholarship at Youngstown State University.

Niyah Carpenter, Senior, Withrow High School, Track and Field

One of the most accomplished track-and-field athletes at Withrow High School in the last 50 years, Niyah Carpenter played a key role in Withrow's girls' track team as it won its third consecutive Ohio Division I state championship earlier this month.

Withrow track and field standout Niyah Carpenter

A New Balance Track and Field All-American, Carpenter has been a member of three state championship relay teams, including this year's 400-Meter Relay Team (46.98), which won its third straight state title. She was member of the 800-Meter and 1600-Meter two-time state runners-up. This year's 800-Meter Relay finished in 1:38.88, while the 1600-Meter Relay Team turned in a 3:47.83 time.

Carpenter, a four-year varsity starter, holds the Withrow school record in the indoor long jump with an 18-foot, 1-inch performance. After a third-place finish in the long jump in 2016, she finished 13th overall this year with a 16-8.75 effort.

During her career, Withrow's girls track team won three-straight Eastern Cincinnati Conference titles and three Division I regional championships. Carpenter was named the ECC's Most Outstanding Athlete in 2016.

A member of the National Honor Society, she will run track on scholarship at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia.

Sophie Gorman, senior, McNicholas High School, soccer

Sophie Gorman has been an all-star player for the McNicholas Lady Rockets since she began playing varsity soccer her freshman year.

McNicholas soccer standout Sophie Gorman

This past season, she scored a league-leading 20 goals with five assists (leading the league with 45 points). That concluded a four-year career having scored 61 goals and 28 assists for the Rockets.

Gorman was named the Ohio Division II Player of the Year, was a three-time All-State selection and a two-time Southwest Ohio Division II Player of the Year. She was twice named a National Soccer Coaches of American Association All-American.

She played a key role in leading the 2014 McNicholas team to a 21-1 record and the Ohio Division II state title with a 3-0 victory over Akron Archbishop Hoban. It was the first Ohio state girls' soccer championship in school history.

She was the Greater Cincinnati League Co-Ed Central Division First Team selection four times, and twice was named the league's Player of the Year. In addition, Gorman was this year's Women's Sports Association's Greater Cincinnati Soccer Player of the Year.

Last summer, she was a member of the Kings Hammer Academy Under-18 club team that finished as national semifinalists at the USA Youth Soccer National Championships in Frisco, Texas.

A member of the National Honor Society, Sophie Gorman will continue her soccer career on scholarship at the University of Cincinnati.

Ally Niece, junior, Simon Kenton High School, basketball

Only a junior, Ally Niece has been playing varsity basketball since the sixth grade. She already has 2,773 career points with another season to go.

Simon Kenton basketball standout Ally Niece

This past season, the point guard averaged 19.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, with a 52.8 percent field goal percentage and an 87.3 percent free throw percentage.

After getting Simon Kenton to the Kentucky State Girls Sweet Sixteen as a freshman, she helped lead her school to the Kentucky state tournament Elite Eight with a 28-7 record this past year. She was a member of the Kentucky State Tournament All-Tournament team.

Niece has been named First Team All-State by the Louisville Courier-Journal twice, along with an Honorable Mention All-State honor as a freshman. The Lexington Herald-Leader has picked Ally as a First Team All-State player twice and Third Team as a freshman.

Locally, she was named the Cincinnati Women's Sports Association Player of the Year and the Greater Cincinnati Basketball Hall of Fame Co-Player of the Year. She was picked as the Northern Kentucky Girls Basketball Coaches' Association Player of the Year and was MVP of both the district and regional tournaments.

Niece is a 4.0 student and a member of the National Honor Society. She verbally committed to play basketball at Northern Kentucky University.

Ashley Volpenhein, senior, Mason High School, swimming

Swimmer Ashley Volpenhein concluded a magnificent high school career with seven Ohio state championships, including six individual state titles and one relay state title.

Mason standout swimmer Ashley Volpenhein

A six-time high school All-American, Volpenhein captured the Ohio Division I state title in the 100-Yard Freestyle for the third straight time in 50.24.

She holds two Ohio Division I state records in both the 50-Yard Freestyle (22.35) and the 100-Yard Freestyle (48.96). She holds three Ohio state Long Course records for the 11-12, 13-14 and 15-16 age groups, including the 50-Meter Freestyle (25.59). She played a key role in Mason's third place finishes (2014 and 2015) and second places finishes (2016 and 2017) in the Ohio Division I state tournament.

Named the Ohio Division I Co-Swimmer of the Year as a junior, Volpenhein won three state titles, including her record-setting performance in the 50-Yard Freestyle.

She holds the Miami University women's pool record in both the 50- and 100-Yard Freestyle. She was named the Greater Cincinnati Women's Sports Association Swimming Sportswoman of the Year her junior year and this season was named Greater Miami Conference Swimmer of the Year for the fourth straight year.

Volpenhein competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2016. She was selected to USA Swimming's 2015 World Junior Team and the 2015-16 National Junior Team. Her seventh place finish in the 50 Freestyle at the World Junior Championship in 2015 was the highest finish by a USA athlete.

She is the 2017 NASA (National Age group Swimming Association) Junior National Champion in the 50 and 100-Yard Freestyle in the 17-18 age group.

An Academic All-American with a 4.6 grade-point average and ranked in the top 10 percent of her graduating class, Volpenhein will continue her swimming career on full scholarship at Stanford University.

Abigail Zoeller, senior, Simon Kenton High School, soccer

All-American Abigail Zoeller may be among the best soccer players in Northern Kentucky over the last decade.

Simon Kenton soccer standout Abigail Zoeller

Simon Kenton won the Eighth Region championship two years in a row and it's largely on the effort of Abigail. This past year, the Lady Pioneers racked up a school-record 21 victories.

This past season, Abigail scored 35 goals with 21 assists. Over the last two seasons, she has notched 66 goals and 47 assists.

She was First Team All-State- West and First Team All-Eighth Region.

She was twice named a finalist for the Kentucky Gatorade Soccer Player of the Year. Zoeller, who also played a year of basketball of basketball and was a kicker on the Pioneers' football team, will continue her soccer career at the University of Kentucky.

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