There’s a beach on the eastern side of the Hawaiian island O’ahu, not far from Honolulu, where Kayla Agae’s mother used to tell her and her sisters not to go past a certain marker.
Near that beach is the United States Marine Corps base where Agae’s mom, Suzanne, and dad, Papaevalu, worked from 1997 to 2003.
Much farther away is Okinawa, Japan, where Agae was born, Las Vegas, where her family moved after their time in Hawaii, and Elon University, where she’s a sophomore outside hitter on the volleyball team.
Her path to Elon differs drastically from much of the squad — nearly half of Agae’s 11 teammates are from North Carolina — but there’s no way of knowing that. She’s made a seamless transition after making the fourth move of her life, all of more than 2,000 miles.
“I don’t think somebody from the outside could come in and pick out who the West-Coaster is,” said sophomore middle blocker Ally Karle. “She’s transitioned really well with time zones and being away from her family. I give her a lot of credit.”
Agae’s parents met in the Marines. Papaevalu is a native of American Samoa, while Suzanne moved around the northwestern United States when she was young. They both worked in Okinawa, the southernmost prefecture of Japan, where there are 34 U.S. military bases.
Agae, the youngest of three daughters, was born Feb. 14, 1995. When she was two years old, the family moved to Hawaii.
Six years later, they relocated to Las Vegas. Agae hasn’t been back to Hawaii since.
“It’s almost like, I don’t want to go back to ruin how I left it because it’s so precious,” Agae said. “It’s become more touristy, more commercialized. I want to go back and see it, but I don’t want to ruin the memories I have.”
Agae began third grade when she moved to Las Vegas.
“I joke around [that] I had my childhood in Hawaii. You can’t go outside in Vegas — it’s too hot,” Agae said. “And the beach isn’t right down the street.”
Agae knew she’d play collegiate volleyball and wanted to commit to a Division I school before her senior year at Silverado High School.
She first got in contact with Jen Fry, an Elon assistant coach and director of recruiting, through some of her club coaches. Agae talked with her a lot more during a USA Volleyball camp at the summer between her junior and senior years of high school before attending Elon’s volleyball camp, when Elon head coach Mary Tendler offered her a scholarship.
After mulling it over with her parents, Agae committed to Elon even though she had only seen three parts of campus — Alumni Gym, Colonnades dining hall and the area around Sloan Residence Hall. She only had one other offer, from a Division II school.
“I had the mindset of ‘I’ll go anywhere.’ Far, close, near,” Agae said. “[Elon] is totally different from Vegas heat, for sure. It’s different from Hawaii. We have four seasons here. I’ve never experienced that.”
Agae saw the rest of campus during her official visit in November of her senior year. Before heading to Elon for preseason camp last year, she and her mom made the 36-hour cross-country drive to Elon.
One of the first things she noticed: there were considerably more country music radio stations than in Las Vegas.
Perhaps the biggest adjustment, though, came when fall and winter rolled around.
“We wear boots here. I’ve never experienced that. I don’t wear boots,” Agae said. “I have to wear jeans, I have to actually wear a scarf and a jacket and another jacket. It was hard to wake up in the morning and not just throw on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.”
When she first arrived at Elon, volleyball kept her busy. With preseason practice occupying her for the first month, Agae was able to adjust fairly easily. Her roommate and teammate, sophomore libero Morgan Maner, is from Burlington. Her family made Agae feel at home.
On the court, Agae made an immediate impact for the Phoenix. She played in all 33 matches during her freshman year, recording 198 kills and 124 digs. This year, she’s second on the team with 165 kills and third with 196 digs.
“[Agae] seems to fit right in at Elon,” Tendler said. “Each person is different. Some people that live close by have the hardest time being away from home just because things are different. I don’t think distance is always a determining factor. The teammates do a really good job making sure they’re OK, especially when they first get here. They take care of each other.”
Staying in touch
For Agae, the biggest downside to being at Elon is missing out on big moments with her family, even though she stays as connected as she can.
Her sister Marilyn recently got engaged, and she was able to FaceTime with her family to share in the special moment. Agae is also an aunt to her oldest sister Rebecca’s two children.
“I wish I was there for my sister’s 21st birthday when he proposed,” Agae said. “I wish I was there seeing my nephew grow up. He’s growing like a weed. I’m sad I’m missing out on what is happening back home, but I know my family’s supporting me enough that I’m going to accomplish what I want in North Carolina.”
With the hectic volleyball season and classes, Agae is only able to take the five-hour flight back to Las Vegas twice a year — winter break and summer.
But she only has one regret.
“I regret not bringing winter clothes,” she said.