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