The NCAA started hosting a men's swimming and diving championship in 1924. The first 13 of those were contested only on an individual basis.

A team champion was not decided until 1937, when the event was hosted for the first time by the University of Minnesota. There were nine swimming events, two in diving, and Michigan was the victor.

There are records that suggest the University of Minnesota Armory was the venue for the '37 event. That seems to be erroneous, since a paragraph in the Minneapolis Journal says the competition was held in the "new pool in the new athletic building."

That would be Cooke Hall, which opened in 1934, and with an inviting pool still to this day.

"I go over there and swim laps in that pool often," said Bar Soloveychik, a current Gophers standout. "It is a great place to work."

What was certain with the confined Cooke Hall swimming arena, for all of its usefulness, was that it would never again serve as a host to an NCAA championship — not as that exploded in events, competitors and stature.

There already was a women's swimming team at Minnesota before Title IX guidelines took effect in 1972. Jean Freeman became the first full-time coach in 1973, right after her graduation as a Gopher.

"From what I understand, they had been talking about building a new swimming facility for two decades," said Chris Voelz, the women's athletic director from 1988 to 2002.

"When I got there in the summer of 1988, the university had a plan, but there were people wanting to first take down Memorial Stadium.

"We said, 'Why wait? We can build it inside the stadium, on the old field.' That's what happened. For months and months. We were building this great facility, and people couldn't see it inside those old football walls."

Construction went fast. The doors were opened on June 1, 1990. And in the annals of University of Minnesota athletics facilities, the $11 million originally spent to construct what's now the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center goes unsurpassed for a fantastic use of dollars.

The NCAA men's swimming and diving championships will be there Wednesday through Saturday for the eighth time since 1994. The women's championships also have been there four times since 1993.

Why do the NCAA, coaches and competitors offer raves after their Minneapolis visits? It's not because of the weather. It's more the water.

Kelly Kremer, the Gophers' head coach for men's and women's swimming, said: "There's a number of good reasons, and also a big reason: We're known to be one of the fastest pools in the world. There aren't many times a big event is held here and you don't see records broken."

Voelz said as design plans were being finalized, the same message was coming from both Freeman and then-men's coach Dennis Dale: "This pool has to be fast.''

Voelz was a coach of volleyball, not swimming.

"That was a discovery for me — that pools can be fast or not as fast," she said. "It had something to do with side drains, depth. Jim Turman from the recreation department was there a lot and he knew way more about it."

The Aquatic Center received money from athletics, recreation, USA Swimming and other entities. The U.S. Olympic Festival was being held in the Twin Cities that summer and there was a hurry to get the swimming facility open.

Dorothy Sheppard, part of the group of donors that Voelz came to count on, was a particularly generous donor — to the point the pool itself is named in her honor.

"Dorothy was 84 at the time, and a daily swimmer," Voelz said. "On the night the building opened, Dorothy, Jean and I were going to swim the honorary first lap. Dorothy brought these old, wool-like swimming suits that they wore when she was a young woman.

"We started swimming our laps, trying to wave to the crowd, and Dorothy veered into a buoy and was tangled up in the ropes. It looked like she was going under.

"Jean and I were in a panic to get her loose. We couldn't lose Dorothy on the first night."

There have been upgrades for the Freeman Aquatic Center to maintain its world-class status.

Many millions were spent for the equipment to provide exceptional air quality within that moist environment. A half-million was spent recently for a "bulkhead," the movable structure that can turn a 50-meter pool into the 25-yarder needed for most U.S. competition.

On Tuesday, it was chaos as 300 swimmers and divers milled about to practice and take a look at the pool. Starting Wednesday, the 1,500 seats and standing room are sold out for four days.

"It's one of those wonderful investments we made for athletics," Voelz said. "Now let me tell you about Ridder Arena …"