Officially, the shot traveled 20 yards.

But to soccer enthusiasts in South Jersey, the blast off Carli Lloyd's left foot in the sixth minute of overtime in the gold-medal game of the Beijing Olympics covered considerably more distance: About 7,200 miles, and maybe 12 years as well.

"I remember the first time we played against her," said Bill Mulvihill, longtime girls' soccer coach at Moorestown High, referring to Lloyd's freshman season at Delran. "She's this little freshman, and she scores two goals against us, both of them off her head. I was like, 'Whoa.' "

Similar reactions have echoed through Lloyd's career and reached a crescendo yesterday, when the pride of South Jersey girls' soccer drilled the game-winning goal in Team USA's 1-0 victory over favored Brazil.

Still, it's a long way from a little town in Burlington County to Beijing, and a long way from potential stardom as a skinny high school freshman to Lloyd's current status as one of the top players on the best women's team in the world.

Lloyd, 26, has been a well-known figure in South Jersey soccer circles for 12 years, if not longer. But it's one thing to be a star in high school, or even at Rutgers, where she was a four-time all-Big East selection.

It's quite another to score the only goal in the Olympic gold-medal game, and in overtime, to boot.

"We were going crazy," said Mulvihill, president of the South Jersey Soccer Coaches Association, who watched the game at his home with other coaches. "It was such a proud moment, to think about how far she has come and the impact South Jersey girls' soccer has had on the world.

"That was one of our own over there, scoring the game-winning goal to give the USA the gold medal."

Lloyd is one of four New Jersey women on Team USA, along with East Brunswick's Heather O'Reilly, Point Pleasant's Christie Rampone and Basking Ridge's Tobin Heath.

But few international players have come as far as Lloyd. Even after her sensational careers at Delran, where she was The Inquirer's two-time player of the year, and at Rutgers, where she ended her career as the program's all-time leader in points (117) and goals (50), she was miles from a position on the national team.

Indeed, Lloyd nearly gave up competitive soccer about five years ago, as she was languishing on the U.S. under-21 team and struggling to establish herself as anything more than a good college player.

By serendipity, Lloyd hooked up with trainer James Galanis, an outgoing and enthusiastic Australian native who in 2000 opened the Universal Soccer Academy, a private training facility in Lumberton, Burlington County.

Lloyd blossomed under Galanis' direction. She earned a berth as a training partner with the U.S. national team during its Olympic camp in 2004, made her first two caps (appearances in international competitions) in 2005, made her first career start at the Algarve Cup in 2006, and was named MVP after scoring four goals at the Algarve Cup in 2007.

"She worked on her own to get incredibly fit, flexible, and strong to become a complete player," Rutgers coach Glenn Crooks, who coached Lloyd for four years in New Brunswick, wrote on the Sky Blue soccer blog. "Lloyd is such an asset to the team that many times I come away thinking she's the best player on the pitch. And that's not just for the USA, but for everyone."

Even as her career has blown up, Lloyd has remained a regular Jersey girl. She lists going to the beach, boogie-boarding and shopping among her favorite activities. She likes to watch 24, Seinfeld and Lost. She and teammate Heather Mitts eased the tension before a big game earlier in the Olympics by getting a pedicure, manicure and temporary tattoos.

Mulvihill said Lloyd is a wonderful example of the value of hard work and dedication. She was great in high school and worked to get better. She was terrific in college and worked to get better. She was a member of the U-21 national team and worked to get better.

Even after making the Olympic team, Lloyd pushed herself to become something more than a solid midfielder, a dependable role player. And yesterday, she became her country's golden girl.

"She's just something special," Mulvihill said. "We ran a camp [at Moorestown] this summer, and Carli came out and she was great with the girls, encouraging them, signing autographs, doing whatever she could to help out.

"I know these athletes usually get paid for things like that, but she wouldn't take a dime. She was like, 'South Jersey soccer has done so much for me. I want to give back.' "