Unwisely, the Central Coast Polo Club, of California, decided to mess with Marissa Wells at a banquet the night before the U.S. Polo Association girls National Interscholastic Championship match in March.
Wells, 17, the Freeland-based Maryland Polo Club's star player, captain and one of the most skilled players at the high school level in the sport — played indoors from October to March — was asked to look closely at something on the top of a table.
When the Hereford High junior did so, the California girls suddenly splashed water in her face to send them into convulsions of laughter.
If her opponents believed Wells would be intimidated by their prank, they found out otherwise the next day at the final of the high school tournament that was held at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
"I'll see you on the field," was Wells' immediate response to her rivals.
Instead of shrinking from the moment, Wells was a human buzz saw from the moment she mounted her horse, grabbed a mallet and started swinging it in earnest.
"We went in hot and heavy looking for revenge," said Wells about the aftermath of a practical joke that backfired. "We just started the game off angry because of that."
Wells and her Maryland Polo teammates — sisters Abbie and Maddie Grant, and Stephanie Schultz — began the match by building a 7-1 lead after the first chukker and went on from there to clobber the Californians, 34-8, to secure their second national championship in three years and complete a perfect 15-0 season.
The riled-up Marylanders, who have claimed five national crowns overall, scored more than a goal per minute in the rout in their 13th championship appearance in the last 17 years.
"We were mad, too," (about the affront) said Stephanie, 14, who also lives in Freeland and is home-schooled.
The Grant girls hail from Phoenix and attend Bryn Mawr School. Abbie, 13, is in the seventh grade while her older sister, 14, is in the eighth grade at the Baltimore private school.
Even if her rivals hadn't given Wells extra motivation to excel, her ability to maneuver a 1,000-pound polo pony makes her a force to be reckoned with in a sport that depends on expert horsemanship.
The 5-foot-6-inch former Hereford pole vaulter's leadership qualities are almost as well developed, considering she's the team's elder statesman, role model and the only member who is in high school.
Still, the younger girls are up to the task of competing at the highest level of the sport with Wells as their on-field inspiration.
"They're confident because we give them confidence," said Maryland Polo Club coach Kelly Wells, Marissa's mom and a former national collegiate championship player at Cornell University. "Playing with Marissa gives them confidence, too, because she has been in enough games and she has seen enough that she tells them where to go. She's pretty good at dealing with that age-group."
"It's a lot of responsibility," Marissa Wells said. "You have to maintain a positive attitude, even when things aren't going well.
"I try to follow her lead," Stephanie said. "She's a good role model."
Marissa Wells is also pretty good at scoring, among other things, in polo.
Her 49 goals led the scoring in the tournament that featured champions from the northeastern, central, western and southeastern regions of the country. Maryland represented the southeastern region.
"My daughter is just a scoring machine," said Kelly Wells, whose indoor facility on her Marlan Farms site off Middletown Road also boasts a boys team and a polo school. "I've never seen a championship match decided by more than 12 goals. The California team didn't know what was coming. It was a real beat-down."
Even rivals are quick to express their admiration for Marissa Wells' prowess on a polo pony.
"Marissa is as good as any collegiate player there is right now," said Garrison Forest School polo coach Cindy Halle. "So any team that has her is going to be successful."
What sets Wells apart from her peers begins with her feel for riding.
"She's always the fastest kid to the ball," Kelly Wells said. "She hits with a lot of power and hits accurately; she rarely mishits. It doesn't matter what horse she's on, because she's such a strong rider."
Marissa Wells said her love of horses is what attracts her to the sport.
"It's not just hopping on a horse and using a mallet," she said. "You have to be able to ride different horses. It's very competitive, but you have to be able to ride. If you can't ride, you're done. That's why we put so much emphasis on riding."
"Just being around horses is what makes it fun," Stephanie said. "I love horses."
Marissa Wells added that she understands that not everyone wants to play polo.
"But even if you're not going to play, at least ride a horse once in your life," she said. "That should be on everyone's bucket list."