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Jeff TullyIt’s not much of a stretch...

Jeff Tully

It’s not much of a stretch to think of John Abdou and Andre Setaghian

as architects.

However, instead of developing structures using mortar and steel,


the two prefer to build their projects on a promising foundation of


Abdou is the girls’ water polo coach at Burbank High and Setaghian

is his counterpart for the Bulldog boys’ team. Between the two, they


have resurrected the school’s programs and made both teams winners.

When Setaghian began as an assistant four years ago, the school

only had a boys’ team, and the program had been mired in failure for

as long as anyone could remember.

“It was a mess when I got here,” said Setaghian, a Burbank

graduate. “For years, the team never had a coach who wanted to stick

around for very long. The coaches weren’t there to improve the

program, they were just there collecting a check.


“And that affected the players. They had no one to look up to and

they had no one to rely on.”

Two seasons ago, with Setaghian building the boys’ program piece

by piece, Abdou was hired to take over a girls’ team that was

organized a year earlier. The two instantly became friends, as they

not only share an intensity for a water polo, but a desire to make

the sport synonymous with the city of Burbank.

"[John] and I have been getting along like brothers,” Setaghian



“Our goal is not only to make Burbank successful, but to make

Burbank and Burroughs successful in league and in the CIF. We want

our names to be out there and we want people to know that we have

good teams in this city.”

Said Abdou: “As soon as our plans are complete, Burbank will be a

water polo city,” he said. “If that wasn’t one of my goals, I

wouldn’t be here. Andre and I are here to establish the programs and

to make them winners, and I think we’re doing that.

“The key is that Andre and I work together. I help him with his

players and he helps me with mine. We look at ourselves as one big

program, not two.”


Abdou and his girls’ team have experienced a sizable growth this

season. Thursday, the Bulldogs -- in their third year of existence --

make their first appearance in the CIF Southern Section Division I

playoffs. The team will travel to play Santa Margarita -- the No. 3

seed -- in an opening match.

The Bulldogs (13-8, 6-4 in league) also finished among the top

three teams in the Almont League for the first time with a

third-place result.

This season’s win total is impressive considering Burbank won just

five matches in 2002.

“The players have done a great job this season,” Abdou said. “For

the first time this season, we go into games expecting to win, not

just to compete. These players realize that they have talent and they

can win.”

A successful high school player at Temple City and in college at

UC Irvine, Abdou brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the


Although Setaghian never played collegiately, he has dedicated

himself to the sport and is determined to soak up as much about water

polo as possible.

"[John] and I are constantly reading, studying and keeping up with

the sport,” Setaghian said. “I even went to a clinic in Florida last


That dedication paid dividends last season for the boys’ team.

Burbank (14-12, 5-5) not only made it to the postseason for the first

time in eight seasons, but it also swept cross-town rival Burroughs

for the first time in 11 years.

In a wild-card Division III playoff match, the Bulldogs played

well, losing to Santa Monica, 10-8.

An athlete who has seen the progression of the water polo programs

first hand is senior girls’ player Brisa Sandoval. She said the

Bulldogs’ successes is a direct result of the work put in by Abdou

and Setaghian.

“The coaching has changed so much,” said Sandoval, who played for

the boys’ program her freshman season before the girls’ team was

formed. “We know the coaches are going to be here for us and they’re

not going to leave after a year or something.

“They really care about us and they are really dedicated to making

us better players. It’s because of them that we are winning right


The Bulldog teams have been able to thrive under Abdou and

Setaghian without a component essential to water polo -- a pool.

Burbank has been without a pool since 1994, when the school’s

facility was permanently damaged by the Northridge earthquake.

The teams have been forced to use city pools and the pool at


The tedious work of finding practice and match time for their

teams has been an ongoing struggle for the coaches. With construction

taking place at the school, Burbank might not have a home pool until


“Not having a pool makes us hungrier,” Abdou said. “We kind of

think if we can do all of this without a pool, just think what it’s

going to be like when we finally have our own pool.

“But when we get our pool, the sky’s the limit. That’s what we

look forward to.”

Burbank water polo players can also look forward to more success

in the future, with Abdou and Setaghian leading the way. For the two

coaches, their construction project is just getting started.